Fat gets a bad rap after the low-fat fad diets of recent times. Common sense tells us eating any fat makes us “fat”, or simply causes the body to gain weight. However, research in the last decade has debunked this myth over and over again.
Simply put, fat is an important nutrient that provides our body with energy, helps with vitamin absorption, and keeps the internal organs of our bodies safe. Fat is not only required on our body, it’s required in our diets as well.
Not all dietary fats are created equal though. When including fats in the diet, it’s important to be very choosy with the type of fats consumed to receive the maximum benefits.
The three types of dietary fats are:
- Unsaturated Fats
- Saturated Fats
- Trans Fats
These are are the most heart healthy and the best type of fat to maximize in the diet.
Unsaturated fats are primarily found in plant foods and fatty fish. These fats lower LDL cholesterol (think ‘L’ for lousy) and naturally reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Unsaturated fats high in omega 3 fatty acids are very crucial for brain and joint health. Research has proven omega 3 fatty acids may also increase HDL cholesterol (think ‘H’ for healthy), which is primarily dictated by genetics or exercise.
HDL cholesterol acts as a “mini pac-man” in the blood, eating LDL cholesterol and other fatty accumulations.
Include the following unsaturated fats in your diet daily: canola or olive oil; nuts or nut butters, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews or peanuts, avocado; seeds like chia, hemp or flaxseeds and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines.
These fats are healthy in moderation. A diet high in saturated fat will raise LDL cholesterol and put the body at higher risk for clotted arteries, leading to heart attack or stroke.
Saturated fats are found mainly in animal foods, such as meats and dairy foods, but also in oils used for frying. Small amounts of saturated fats are safe and can be processed by the body without harm, but a diet high in saturated fat day after day will harm the heart, and likely lead to weight gain.
Rather than eliminate saturated fat and the delicious foods it’s found in, focus on making leaner choices to minimize the intake. Choose lean proteins, over 90 percent lean-ground meats, skinless poultry, or fish. Try low-fat or fat free cheese, milk, yogurt and other dairy foods, and opt for baked, grilled or broiled foods rather than fried foods.
These fats are the unhealthiest and should be eliminated from the diet. Trans fats are mostly made in laboratories to increase shelf-life on processed products.
Many cookies, cakes, crackers, packaged prepared foods and other shelf stable items contain trans fat. While the nutrition facts label may show 0g for trans fat, if the ingredients say “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated”, that product has trans fat in it.
Trans fat not only increase LDL cholesterol (the lousy one) but also decrease HDL cholesterol (the healthy one), hitting the heart and blood negatively in two separate ways.
The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 2 grams of trans fat per day to remain heart healthy.
Choosing the right types of fat is important for heart health, but portion size with fats is extremely important as well. Fats, while very healthy, are calorically dense. A little bit of dietary fat goes a long way.
Eating too much fat in the diet can lead to weight gain, even if the fat source is healthy and from unsaturated fats. Remember to use fats as a condiment or addition to a meal rather than focus the meal on that food.
Fats are essential in the diet and play an important role in the body. Being choosy with fats is very important to receive the enriching health benefits of fat, while also keeping the body healthy.
A few simple swaps to lower-fat animal products, reducing processed food intake and eating more plant based fats can make a huge impact on blood work, as well as the waist line.