The word “fat” has a negative connotation. We think that by automatically reaching for the “low fat” option at the grocery store, we’re making the better choice. However, fats don’t deserve this severe reputation. While some fats can be damaging to your health, others actually have health benefits that can keep you looking better and living longer. Fats provide important fatty acids and are essential for the delivery of some vitamins, and some fats are actually good for your heart. It’s easy to get bogged down by nutrition labels, so let’s look at the different types of fats and their positive and negative qualities.
Fats Can Be Broken Down Into Two Categories
These being saturated and unsaturated fats. Generally, unsaturated fats are better for you than saturated fats. One way to tell the difference is to look at how the fat behaves at room temperature. Unsaturated fats typically come from oils, so they would be more liquid at room temperature (think of things like oily salad dressings). Unsaturated fats are also present in fish and some nuts. Just think of the oil that you would see in a tuna can or at the top of a can of natural peanut butter. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are closer to a solid form at room temperature (such as the fat in meat or butter).
Now that we know a bit about how to identify the two main types of fats, it’s time to talk about each type in more detail. Let’s start with the good news first, and talk more about unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats come in two categories: polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Both of these types are good for your diet because in moderation, they can improve both your heart health and cholesterol. You’ll find a lot of polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils; however, there is one type of polyunsaturated fat, Omega-3, that is most often found in fish. Don’t worry vegetarians and vegans; you can also get this type of fat in flax-seed, soy beans, or even walnuts. Omega-3s have been shown to have a positive impact on eye and brain health, metabolism, skin appearance and health, and inflammation that can cause other health problems.
Monounsaturated fats are great for you, too. Just ask countries like Greece and Italy that have lots of these in their diets! These fats can be found in olive oil, avocado, and lots of different nuts, so they are great for vegetarians and vegans to keep in mind. Having monounsaturated fats in your diet has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and maintain HDL cholesterol. They are also beleived to be good for weight loss and decreasing joint pain.
Unfortunately, not all fats are beneficial. Saturated fats, including trans fatty acids, typically harm more than they help. Luckily, these types of fats are usually listed on product ingredient lists, making them easy to spot in your diet. These fats are safe to consume in moderation, but too much can result in higher cholesterol and clogged arteries. The bad news for meat eaters is that saturated fats are prevalent in most animal products, including whole milk and eggs. The good news is that you don’t have to cut saturated fats from your diet entirely if you want to live a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Heart Association, no more than 5% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats. That means that if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you should aim for no more than 13 grams of saturated fat. That’s about 4 ounces of ground beef and 1/2 cup of ice cream.
There is a specific type of saturated fat that you may hear a lot about: trans fats, or trans fatty acids. Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy. However, they most frequently show up as the result of unnatural processing of food, creating something called a partially hydrogenated fat. These fats appear frequently in highly processed foods, as well as products that are heavily fried. Trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol, increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, and raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Because these partially hydrogenated fats are the result of an artificial process, one way to avoid them is by including as much natural, unprocessed food in your diet as possible. You can’t go wrong with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables!
Improve Your Health
The bottom line is that not all fats are created equal. By increasing the unsaturated fat in your diet and decreasing the saturated fat, you can improve your overall health in many ways. From a healthier heart to better skin, your whole body will thank you!