Published On: Sat, May 30th, 2020

The Skinny on Fats: Healthy Fats to Know, Plus Two to Avoid

The Skinny on Fats

In 1976, U.S. Senator George McGovern raised concerns about the average American’s diet following an uptick in premature deaths. Overconsumption of fat and other recent eating patterns, he argued, was causing a critical public health concern. Thus the 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States nutrition policy was born.

This nutrition guide included several recommendations beyond limiting fat consumption, but they were glossed over by the public. “Less fat, more carbs” became the new motto. Senator McGovern had the right idea—a healthy diet is a key factor to overall well-being—but missed the mark by recommending less fats across the board.

Four major types of fat are found in foods. Each affects “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels differently. For reference, HDL is the good stuff, the higher the number the better. LDL is bad, so a lower number is best.

Read on to learn the different types of fats you could encounter on a food label, how they affect your cholesterol, and common food sources of each.

photo/ Praha/ČR

Saturated Fat: Limit Your Intake

Saturated fat is considered to be an unhealthy fat, as it raises your LDL cholesterol levels. But the jury isn’t completely out. Some studies show reducing intake isn’t necessarily correlated to a reduction in cardiovascular events. Still, it’s better to err on the side of caution and enjoy foods containing saturated fat in moderation.

Unfortunately, some of the best-tasting foods may be high in saturated fat—fried foods, baked goods, high-fat dairy products, fatty and dark cuts of meat, and tropical oils that are solid at room temperature, like coconut and palm oils. But don’t worry, there are plenty of deliciously satisfying foods that contain healthier fats, as you’ll see below.

Monounsaturated Fat: Plant-Based and Very Healthy

Monounsaturated fat is one of the most beneficial and satisfying nutrients you can add to your healthy diet. While we can’t say for sure eliminating saturated fat will lead to better health, there’s evidence that diets with a high intake of monounsaturated fat help maintain healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range. They also provide vitamin E, an antioxidant, and other nutrients to help cellular development.*

And, bonus, this healthy fat comes from delicious sources. Foods with monounsaturated fat include eggs, olive oil, avocados, sunflower seeds, and most nuts—even almonds, cashews, and pistachios. Blend up a handful of cashews or half an avocado in your next chocolate protein shake—it may sound strange, but the rich creaminess is unbelievably tasty.

Polyunsaturated Fat: The Essential Healthy Fat

Polyunsaturated fats are literally essential—your body can’t make them, and you need them to function. The two main types of polyunsaturated fat are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. They help maintain cholesterol levels and blood pressure already in the normal range, and support brain health.*

Long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are commonly found in cold-water fish, like wild trout and salmon; some plant oils, like flaxseed, canola, and soybean oil; and certain nuts and seeds, such as chia seeds and walnuts. If you’re not a fish fan, and you’d rather not opt for chia seed pudding every day, consider a fish oil supplement. Even better, one with a delicious lemon-flavored coating.

Trans Fat: Avoid These Unhealthy Fats

Trans fat only exists artificially, which should be your first warning sign. And, boy howdy, these are the worst of the worst unhealthy fats. Trans fat not only raises LDL cholesterol, it’s also associated with heart disease. Yikes. In 2018, the World Health Organization released a guide to completely eliminate trans fat from the global food supply.

Unfortunately, trans fat can still be found in common foods. Check the label if you’re purchasing any of the following: fast food, frozen pizza, vegetable shortening, artificial coffee creamer, refrigerated dough products, and mass-produced baked goods such as crackers, cookies, and pies.

Making the Right Choice

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” – François de la Rochefoucauld

Healthy polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat have been stigmatized for the faults of their cousins trans fat and saturated fat. The reality is, a balanced diet can include up to a third of caloric intake coming from healthy fats, how to reduce belly fat. They’re satisfying and provide steady energy—the opposite of blood sugar-spikes encountered by people who swapped fats out with simple carbs in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

With knowledge comes power. Power through your day with the right ratio of truly healthy fats in your diet.

Written by Jake Wolford

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


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