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Breaking the Fat Stigma


For years, fat consumption has been viewed as the root of all evil in the diet and nutrition world. Foods labeled low-fat and fat-free were all the rage. But did you know certain fats can be good for us?

We need healthy fats in our daily diet to help with building healthy cells, vitamin and mineral absorption, blood clotting, muscle movement and preventing inflammation — not to mention it’s a major energy source. There are different types of fats, some good and some bad. Let’s break it down:

Good Fats

Monounsaturated fats
This type of fat is present in a variety of foods and oils. Research has consistently shown that eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. These foods include:

  • Avocado
  • Nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)
  • Vegetable oils (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil)

Polyunsaturated fats
Plant-based foods and oils are the primary source of this fat. Like monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat can decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. A certain type of this fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to be particularly beneficial for your heart.

Omega-3s not only appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, but also may help lower blood pressure levels and guard against irregular heartbeats. The following types of fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Tuna

You can also find omega-3s in flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil, although these contain a less active form of the fat than fish. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, you can find polyunsaturated fat in the following foods, which contain omega-6 fatty acids:

  • Tofu
  • Roasted soy beans and soy nut butter
  • Walnuts
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
  • Vegetable oils (corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil)

Bad Fats

Saturated Fat
This type of fat is primarily animal-based and found in high-fat meats and dairy products. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Some typical sources of saturated fats include:

  • Dark chicken meat and poultry skin
  • Fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb
  • High fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream)
  • Lard
  • Tropical oils (coconut, palm, cocoa butter)

Consuming excess saturated fat has been shown to increase blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, which can increase your risk for heart disease and possibly type 2 diabetes, especially when combined with a diet high in refined carbohydrates.z

Trans Fat
Short for “trans fatty acids,” trans fat appears in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These are the worst fats for you. You might find trans fat in:

  • Baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
  • Fried foods (french fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods)
  • Margarine (stick and tub)
  • Processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)
  • Vegetable shortening

Like saturated fat, trans fat can raise LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol. Trans fat can also suppress high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, or “good” cholesterol. Trans fats, therefore, can raise your heart disease risk threefold higher than saturated fat intake.

The goal is to increase your intake of healthy fats daily (no more than four servings daily). Remember, that fats are higher in calories (1 gram = 9 calories). Be aware of the total calories you consume in a day. Keep your total fat intake 30 percent or less of your total daily caloric intake.

To learn more about the fat that’s lurking in your food, visit Tanner’s Health Library. For more healthy eating tips, visit GetHealthyLiveWell.org. To have health-related news and tips delivered to your email inbox each month, subscribe to our customizable Get Healthy, Live Well newsletter at tanner.privatehealthnews.com.

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