Your Guide to Fats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Too often, we hear the word "fat" and shudder. We were trained to associate the word with negative terms: weight gain, poor health, fast food, breakouts, obesity, etc. But not all fats are bad for you - in fact, there are many GREAT ones to help you maintain a healthy diet.
Unsaturated Fats - The Good
Although trans fat is technically an unsaturated fat, these fats are mostly your friends. Healthy unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, while trans and saturated fats are solid. Increase your unsaturated fat intake by replacing solids like butter with olive and vegetable oils, and red meat for seafood or unsalted nuts (Pecans, perhaps?). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the two main types. Their chemical structures differ slightly, as do their health benefits.
Monounsaturated fats raise HDL (good) and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Swap sour cream for hummus or guacamole. Use veggies or whole-wheat chips for dip. Try peanut oil in a stir-fry to help your heart and treat your taste buds. Sprinkle unsalted nuts on salads or yogurt (go light, though - they are high in calories!).
This type of fat is found in nuts, seeds vegetable oils and fatty fish. This category includes both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are ESSENTIAL since our bodies don't make them naturally - we have to get them through the food we eat. Polyunsaturated fats help lower cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids - The Good
Omega-3s are superstars if the good fat world. They help fight inflammation, control blood clotting and lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Fatty fish (albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines) are good sources of omega-3s. Vegetable sources include soy, walnuts and some vegetable oils. The American Heart Association suggests eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids - The Ugly
Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils and many snack foods. Most of us have no problem getting enough of these. The ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is around 10:1 in the Western diet. Some research suggests that between a 2:1 and a 4:1 ratio reduces the risk of death from heart disease. As long as you're upping your omega-3s and lowering your saturated and trans fat intake, omega-6s are friends, not foes.
Saturated Fats - The Bad
These types of fat can be found in meat, seafood and dairy products, in addition to plant foods like palm and coconut oil. Saturated fats increase your total cholesterol and LDL levels, which may increase risk for type 2 diabetes. The Dietary Guidelines say no more than 10% of your total daily caloric intake should come from saturated fats.
Trans Fats - The Bad
Liquid oils loaded with hydrogen so they stay solid at room temperature are trans fats. They are found in many processed and fried foods. This type of fat increases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while lowering HDL (the good kind). Food manufacturers can label a product as trans fat-free if it contains less than half a gram per serving - but these can add up. The best thing to do is check a product's ingredient list: if the words hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or shortening appear, the product contains trans fat. You're better off putting it back on the shelf and backing away slowly.
Cholesterol - The Ugly
It's important to focus on avoiding saturated and trans fats when it comes to your cholesterol intake. The current recommendation for those with healthy cholesterol levels is no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily. People at a high risk of heart disease should eat less than 200 milligrams daily. One egg contains about 200 milligrams of cholesterol.