Fat has quite the reputation as a dietary super villain, but there’s more to fat than that.
“A little dietary fat is essential for good health,” says Christy Priebe, a clinical registered dietitian with Kettering and Sycamore medical centers. “Some types of fat consumed in modest amounts may even help protect your health. Other fats, however, may harm your health if you eat them too much.”
Here’s a closer look at these bad and good fats.
The bad guys: saturated and trans fats
These two fats raise LDL blood cholesterol—and with it your risk of heart disease and stroke:
This is found mostly in animal products, including red meat, lamb, chicken with the skin left on, butter, cheese and full-fat or 2 percent milk. It’s also in some plant foods, such as coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter. “Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 10 percent of caloric needs from saturated fats,” Priebe says.
This is found in foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, including baked goods such as cookies, pies, doughnuts and snacks. It helps them have a long shelf life. Trans fat is also in some fried restaurant foods.
The good guys: unsaturated fats
Eating healthy, unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat may help improve cholesterol levels. “Increasing the ‘good fats’ in your diet is a great step toward healthy lifestyle changes,” Priebe explains. The two main unsaturated fats are:
Examples of foods that contain monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oil, nuts, peanut butter and avocados.
Examples of foods that contain polyunsaturated fats include salmon; tofu; and safflower, sunflower and corn oils.
Serve up some good health
To help keep your diet focused on the good fats:
• Plate up more fruits, veggies and whole grains, and less red meat.
• Switch to low-fat or non-fat milk.
• When sauteing or stir-frying, use olive, canola or other oils.
• Eat fish at least twice a week.
• Choose soft margarine instead of butter. Look for “0 grams trans fat” listed on the label.
• Save sweets like doughnuts, cookies, pies and cakes for the occasional treat.
Priebe points out that a diet rich in Omega fatty acids has been proven to have multiple health benefits including cardiovascular health. The Omega 3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid from vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and soy foods, as well as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fatty fish. Eating foods with Omega 3 fatty acids at least twice a week provides the most cardiovascular benefits.
“Wisely choosing which fats to eat is a heart healthy step,” notes Priebe. “It is important to remember that not one food or nutrient is a miracle. Balance is the key.”