Without dietary fat, you could not survive. Fat gives you energy, protects your organs, and helps you absorb certain nutrients. The news is spreading that the right forms of fat are beneficial to our health. A book is even coming out in February 2016 called Eat Fat, Get Thin.
We have also learned that “reduced fat” often means “more sugar.” So how do we know which fats to eat for optimal health? What is the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly?
The Ugly: Trans Fat
Let’s start with the ugly. Trans fats are usually byproducts of industrial processing. Margarine and other man made foods often contain this nasty type of fat which is attractive to food manufacturers because it increases the shelf life of their products. Trans fat is solid and difficult to break down, robbing your body of vital enzymes needed for other functions. Trans fat also causes inflammation. When your immune system detects something harmful or toxic, it sends white blood cells to wage war and inflammation results. Consumption of trans fat has been consistently linked to an increased risk for coronary heart disease and may contribute to other ailments such as insulin resistance, and of course, diabetes.
Pay very close attention to nutrition labels. Companies do not have to list trans fat if a serving of the product contains less than half a gram, so make sure the ingredient list doesn’t have “partially hydrogenated” anything. If it does, it probably contains some trans fat. The Institute of Medicine has stated there is no safe amount of trans fat to consume. Here are some surprising foods that contain trans fat.
The Bad: Saturated Fat
According to Harvard Health, saturated fat falls between trans fat and unsaturated fat in terms of goodness. Saturated fat causes an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but the American Heart Association says you can have 13 grams of saturated fat a day (if you need 2,000 calories). You’ll find saturated fat in beef, cheese, lamb, pork, baked goods, fried foods, milk, palm oil, and coconut oil. Natural sources of saturated fat such as organic grass-fed beef, coconut oil, and organic milk may be the best types to keep the amount of inflammation in your body to a minimum.
The Good: Unsaturated Fat
Now let’s talk about good fat. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are simple, bonded fats that build cell membranes in our bodies, give us energy, provide warmth, and help us absorb vital nutrients. These types of fats usually come from plant sources, although fish contain them too. This actually makes it very easy to remember which fats are best. Think nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados.
Natives of Greece are some of the healthiest people in the world with the least amount of heart disease. This was discovered in the 1960s by the Seven Countries Study, an initiative that compared lifestyle to health in different nations. The study concluded that the consumption of healthy fats and the avoidance of unhealthy fats contributed to the low occurrence of cardiovascular ailments in the Mediterranean region. Thus the super healthy “Mediterranean Diet” was born and took the U.S. by storm.
Incorporating healthy fat into your diet
Adding healthy fat into your diet is both easy and tasty. Some of my favorite ways are listed below:
- Salad: Salads are a gold mine for healthy fats. Mix up your own olive oil & vinegar dressing (try Citrus Vinaigrette) and fill your bowl with olives, nuts, and dark leafy greens (I love arugula and spinach). Venture away from iceberg lettuce; you might find other healthier, more flavorful options.
- Nut Butter Toast: This is one of my favorite and most cost-effective breakfasts. Nut butter is a great way to load up on healthy fats and you don’t have to stick with just peanut butter; try almond or cashew instead. Some grocery stores even have a way to grind nuts into butter right there, so you know there aren’t any other undesirable ingredients. (Check the bulk food aisle.) Pick a whole grain bread with simple ingredients you recognize or make your own. For an added bonus, look for breads that contain seeds.
- Guacamole with Multigrain Chips: Not only are avocados a great source of healthy fat, some multigrain chips are too. The Late July brand is loaded with heart healthy seeds. Make your own Mango Guacamole for a change of pace.
- Smoked Salmon: Smoked salmon is a satisfying and delicious source of protein and healthy fat. It is easy to eat it by itself, but is especially good in Smoked Salmon Cucumber Rolls and with Dill Mustard Sauce.
The best thing you can do for yourself with regard to dietary fat is to steer clear of processed food. That alone will help you avoid consuming bad and ugly fats. Sticking to fresh, natural foods that you prepare yourself will keep you on track.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karyn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic who has been educating herself about health and wellness for 14 years. She has been an Emergency Medical Technician for 5 years and is now studying to become a Health and Wellness Specialist. Her aspiration in life is to bring helpful information to those seeking to be as healthy as they can be.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Always discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your doctor first.