You might be aware that dietary recommendations on fat intake are evolving, but do you know exactly what foods you should be eating and what you should avoid? Low-fat and no-fat diets are no longer touted as being the key to optimal health – rather, diets that include healthy fats in moderation are now recommended for all. Not sure about the difference between good fats and bad fats? Read on for recommended sources of healthy fats, and what foods you should avoid eating in excess!
In general, saturated fats are considered to be less healthy than unsaturated fats because they raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels. The most immediate visual difference between the two is that saturated fats are solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid. This is due to the molecular structure of the fats – saturated fats do not have double bonds between carbon molecules because they “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. But you’re probably less concerned about the chemistry of the situation than you are about the actual food aspect! Here are some guidelines on the different types of fats and their sources:
Saturated fats are mainly found in foods derived from animals, such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, milk, and dairy products. These types of fat are generally considered to be less healthy because they raise LDL cholesterol which can lead to clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), and increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (Note: There are some plant oils that contain saturated fats, such as coconut and palm oil. Coconut oil is often proclaimed to be a health food, yet it contains 90% saturated fat, which is even more than butter contains! Weird, right? The major difference in this instance is that coconut oil also seems to raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels.)
Unsaturated fats, which are found in plant foods and fish, are divided into two sub-categories – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are considered “good fats,” and may help to protect your heart health and promote healthy brain function. Unsaturated fats can be found in liquid vegetable oils (but not tropical oils, i.e. coconut and palm oils). Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are a form of unsaturated fat, while you can find omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids in nuts and seeds.
The Worst Kind of Fat: Trans Fats
We saved the worst for last: Trans fats are a type of fat that does occur naturally in some foods but is mostly present in foods that are highly processed using partial hydrogenation. These types of fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease. Watch for trans fats in commercially made baked goods that use shortening.
Healthy Fats in Moderation
Try to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats in your diet. Remember that your body needs fat! Fat-soluble vitamins, necessary for many processes in your body, require fat to function. However, even healthy fats should be consumed in moderation, as they come with a high caloric cost. Your best option is to strive for a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and enjoy healthy, unsaturated fats such as vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and fish in moderation!
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Nutrition and Healthy Eating.” Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose. Mayo Clinic, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.
Willett, Walter C., MD. “Ask the Doctor: Coconut Oil – Harvard Health.”Harvard Health. Harvard Health Publications, 1 May 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.