No wonder fat has gotten such a bad rap. With all the buzz around processed foods, trans fats and obesity, it’s easy to forget that your body actually needs fat to function properly.
Before we go any further, let’s get the fat facts straight. Aside from being one of your body’s energy sources, many vitamins require fat in order to dissolve. When you eat too many calories and don’t burn them off, your body produces fat. Alternatively, you ingest what’s known as “dietary fat” when eating many foods — some of which contain good fat, and some of which contain bad fat.
So who are the bad fats? The bad fats are the ones you hear about on the news — trans fat, which is synthetically created to make food taste delicious. Saturated fat probably doesn’t deserve the evil reputation it developed over the years, but it’s no saint either — some saturated fats are bad for you, others aren’t. (Learn more about that here.)
Both trans fats and certain types of saturated fats (i.e., palmitic and myristic acids) can increase your bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease, so think twice next time you reach for the butter or decide to overdo it on the dairy products.
Now, here’s the skinny on good fats you’ll actually want to eat.
Found in a variety of oils and foods, monounsaturated fat provides key nutrients, helps reduce risk of heart disease and lowers bad cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fat is found in many foods, including avocados; nut-based products, including pecans, macadamia nuts, peanut butter and cashed butter; oils, including olive oil and sunflower oil; turkey; and halibut.
Another good type of fat, polyunsaturated fats are concentrated in plant-based foods and oils and also improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) may lower blood pressure and decrease risk of coronary artery disease. You can find polyunsaturated fat in many oils, including vegetable, safflower and sunflower oil; fish, including herring, trout and salmon; flaxseed; and walnuts, among other foods.
The American Heart Association recommends that fat constitute 25% to 35% of the calories you eat each day. So boost your health and start replacing the trans fats and saturated fats in your diet with good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Your body will thank you.