One of the biggest misconceptions in making food choices is that all dietary fat is bad for you. There are two types of fat. Saturated fat is bad for you; but unsaturated fat is good for you. Knowing your fats—what are healthy fats—makes food choice easy.
UNSATURATED FATS: GOOD
Essential fats such as Omega 3 are found in nuts and seeds. The body does not produce these fats but they are essential to health. They can be found in good quantity in dark-fleshed fish, nuts (walnuts have the most alpha linolenic acid, an important Omega3 )and seeds (flaxseed, hempseed).
The healthiest type of fat, monounsaturated fat is actually beneficial fat. It promotes heart health and might help prevent cancer and a slew of other ailments. It’s best known for lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels without negatively affecting the “good,” artery-clearing HDL cholesterol. Avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil are rich in monounsaturated fat. Whatever fats you’re using now (other oils, butter, lard): switch over as much as you can to monounsaturated fat.
A moderately healthy fat, polyunsaturated fat lowers LDL cholesterol but also reduces levels of HDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fat is the predominant type of fat in corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil, among other vegetable oils. If you use these oils, trade up to a monounsaturated fat.
Switch to monounsaturated fats: avocado oil,
canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil. Photo by
Zimmy Tews | BSP.
SATURATED FATS: BAD
This is unhealthy fat and should be consumed in moderation. The body converts it into artery-clogging cholesterol, which greases the path to heart disease. Saturated fat is mostly found in animal products and is solid at room temperature. It is the white fat you see along the edge or marbled throughout a piece of meat and is the fat in the skin of poultry. So when you look at that beautiful marbled steak, recall that beauty is more than just skin deep—in this case, it can go deep enough to kill you. Saturated fat is also in “healthy” animal products like milk (except for 0% fat milk) and foods made from milk (cheese, ice cream), as well as in tropical oils such as coconut oil. One should limit one’s intake of saturated fat from animal sources. Unfortunately, the American diet is full of it. The saturated fat from plant sources, such as coconut, are more benign.
Anything called “partially hydrogenated” is a trans fat.
The USDA enables manufacturers who use trans fats to label their products “0 trans fat” or “contains no trans fat” if the amount is up to .5% trans fat per serving. Focusing on the nutrition label does not give you the whole story. You need to read the label closely to ensure there are no partially hydrogenated fats.
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard that trans fat is the worst type of fat? A problem created by Big Manufacturing (and now being corrected by food manufacturers, in response to consumer demand and local government mandate), most trans fat is produced by forcing hydrogen into liquid polyunsaturated fat (the process is called hydrogenation). Margarine was traditionally made this way. The process gives the fats a longer shelf life and helps stabilize their flavors. When hydrogenated, the benign polyunsaturated fat is turned into trans fat, which is recognized by the body as a saturated fat. The body then converts the trans fat to cholesterol, which raises LDL levels and lowers HDL levels. What’s worse, researchers have discovered that unlike regular saturated fat, trans fat disrupts cell membranes, upsetting the flow of nutrients and waste products into and out of the cell, and may be linked to reduced immune function and possibly cancer. Trans fats do occur naturally in small amount in meat and dairy, but the primary source to worry about is in highly processed/artificial foods.
Your health goal should be to make dietary fat choices from the monounsaturated fat group (avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil and/or peanut oil).
Just be aware that fat calories add up quicker. Fat is very energy dense when compared to carbohydrate and protein. It contains more than twice the calories per gram (fat has 9 calories/gram, carbs and protein 4 calories/gram). Thus, if you consume the same amount (in weight) of fat as protein or carbs, your calorie intake will be more than doubled.
Here are guidelines from the Harvard School Of Public Health:
Your daily fat intake should be no more than 30% of your total calorie intake. Multiply the number of calories you consume by .3 to find the number of fat calories you consume.
For a 2,000 calorie/day diet, 2,000 x .3 = 600 calories from fat. At about 100 calories/tablespoon, this equals 6 tablespoons of fat. As a perspective, a stick of butter contains 8 tablespoons.
To calculate by grams, 600 divided by 9 = 66 grams of fat. Since fat contains 9 calories per gram, on a 2,000-calorie diet you should take in no more than 66 grams of fat per day.
10% Saturated Fat: 200 calories/22g (bad news: one Big Mac has about 45g saturated fat)
20% Unsaturated Fat: 400 calories/44g
Of the 30% of your daily calories that come from fat, no more than 10% should come from saturated fats. Thus, on the 2,000-calorie diet, consume no more than :
It’s pretty easy math; and it puts you on the road to enjoying healthy, good-for-you fats.