The Truth About Fats
Low-fat diets dominated for years a popular method of weight-loss. However, your body needs some fat to function at its best, provide energy and keep you healthy. Understanding the difference between good and bad fats allows you to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are the unhealthiest type of fat. Manufacturers produce trans fat through a process called hydrogenation – heating the liquid vegetable oils in your food to make them solid. Many processed foods contain trans fats to preserve the products for longer periods of time without spoiling. These hydrogenated oils can be reheated multiple times, making them a convenient option for fast-food restaurants as well.
What it does:
Unfortunately, the use of trans fats has many unhealthy consequences. Trans fats negatively impact your cholesterol levels, increase inflammation, and can lead to insulin resistance. Trans fats are also bad for heart healthy. Studies have estimated that 1 in 5 heart attacks could be avoided if trans fats were removed from the United States food supply. Another study suggests that every 2 percent of daily calories consumed from trans fat increase your risk of heart disease by 23%.
What to look for:
Manufactures typically list trans fat on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oil.” In, 2006, the United States passed a law that forced food manufacturers to list any trans fat on food labels. Due to this law, many food makers switched to other trans-fat-free ways to preserving food to avoid listing hydrogenated oil on their products. Make sure to check your food labels and avoid foods with any amount of partially hydrogenated oil.
Saturated fats, while healthier than trans fats, are another type of fat to limit. This kind of fat is generally solid at room temperate, like butter or the fat in meat. Saturated fat can be found in animal products like beet, chicken, pork, whole milk, and cheese.
What it does:
Though a common staple in the American diet, saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels and adversely affect heart health. Be sure to eat saturated fats in moderation, and replace them with healthier options whenever possible.
Unsaturated fats are considered “good fats.” Unlike saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, rather than solid. Certain natural foods, like cuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish, contain healthy fats. By replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are two main types of unsaturated fats:
- Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are essential in helping to build cell membranes, protect your nerves, and to help your body resist inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, sunflower, and safflower oil; flaxseed and seafood.
- Monounsaturated fats are fats that stay liquid at room temperature, but turn solid when they are chilled. These fats are a healthy alternative to trans or saturated fats. This type of fat can be found in foods like olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, and nuts.
The United States Department of Agriculture suggests increasing unsaturated fats in your diet and keeping daily saturated fat consumption to under 10% of your total calories. You can adjust your diet to include healthier fats by:
- Use liquid plant oils for cooking and baking such as olive or canola oil
- Ditch the trans fats
- Switch from butter to soft tub margarine
- Eat at least one good source of Omega-3 fats each day such as salmon, tuna, or walnuts
- Cut back on red meat, cheese, milk and ice cream