There are definitely fats that are terrible for you, and they can contribute to weight gain, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. There are also healthy fats that support your brain development, keep your skin and hair shiny and strong, and help your internal organs function properly. How do they do it? They provide important nutrients and help your body absorb important vitamins including Vitamins A, E, and D. In a society focused on dieting and non-fat fixes, it’s easy to forget that we actually do need some fat in our foods. The trick is in knowing which ones to go for. Here’s a breakdown:
Unhealthy Fats – Saturated Fats & Trans Fats:
Saturated fats are present mostly in animal products like full-fat dairy products and red meat. They can up your cholesterol and put you at risk for disease without offering the benefits of healthier fats.
Trans fats are naturally present in some foods, but often, we see them in the form of “partially hydrogenated oils.” (If you see this on a label, find something else to snack on whenever possible!) Foods containing these oils have been processed to make them easier to cook with and less likely to spoil. They may be easier to store in the pantry, but you want to limit the amounts you’re eating. Like saturated fats, eating too much trans fat can lead to disease and unhealthy weight gain.
These unhealthy dietary fats (sometimes referred to as “solid fats” because they are solid at room temperature) occur in foods like pork and beef, butter, margarine, and shortening.
Good fats – Monounsaturated Fats, Polyunsaturated Fats, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) can be found naturally in plant-based foods and oils, like olive oil and avocados. They can protect your heart and help stabilize blood sugar. When your blood sugar is stable, you have less food cravings and decreased risk of developing diabetes.
Omega fatty acids make up some types of polyunsaturated fats, and are usually found in fish. They can also be found in some plants like algae, flaxseed, and nuts. These fat are great for protecting your heart and keeping cholesterol down. Some studies show that they may help with brain function and long-term brain health.
When it comes to fats, unsaturated choices are the way to go. Choose olive oil and avocados over margarine and processed cheese puffs any day.
Applying this to your life.
Sometimes, when you are busy, on a budget, or someone else is cooking for you, it can be hard to monitor what you’re eating. To get more healthy fats into the mix, try these suggestions:
- Fill your diet with more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (like fish, turkey, and chicken), and whole grains.
- Eat fewer processed foods.
- Choose lower-fat dairy and non-fat dairy options like Greek Yogurt.
- Avoid products listing a “hydrogenated oil” as an ingredient.
- Ready labels and choose products with 0 grams trans fat.
- Limit portions of red meats like cheeseburgers, steak, and roast beef.
One more thing: Does this mean you can eat all the healthy fats you want?
Well, no. Too much of anything can throw your body out of balance and put you at risk for unhealthy weight gain and disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following general guidelines:
- Children and adolescents ages 4 to 18: total fat consumption should be 25% to 35% of your total calories
- Adults, ages 19 and older: total fat consumption should be 20% to 35% of your total calories
Nutrition is a personal formula, and it’s always best to have a qualified professional recommend what will be best for you as an individual. So, with this information as a guide, ask your doctor how much you should be eating for your age and body type. If counting calories doesn’t work for you, your doctor can give you some other ways to manage your nutrition. He or she will also be able to tell you some good ways to access healthy food in your geographic area and community.