Fat is not a bad word when dieting. In fact, dietary fat helps your body absorb essential vitamins and increase energy levels, two things vital to your health and wellbeing. However, eating too much fat or the wrong kinds of fat can increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. Too much dietary fat can also lead to weight gain because fat contains many calories. Therefore, when considering dietary fat, it is all about selecting the right types and amounts.
Quick Overview About Dietary Fats
When you look at nutrition labels, you will probably notice that many foods contain a mix of both saturated and unsaturated fats. The combination often favors one fat over the other; for example, canola oil has mostly unsaturated fats with some saturated, whereas butter is the opposite — primarily saturated with some unsaturated.
The difference between the two fats comes down to texture, temperament, and health. Saturated fat — found in lard, butter, full-fat milk, yogurt, full-fat cheese, and high-fat meat — is solid at room temperature and is often considered a bad fat. Alternatively, Unsaturated fat — found in vegetable oils, nuts, and fish — is a liquid at room temperature and is often regarded as good fat.
Further Understanding of Bad or Saturated Fats
Because saturated fats affect low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, raising LDL levels in the blood and increasing risks of stroke and heart disease, the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest the fat makes up only 10% of your calories per day. However, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 7% of your daily calories because of the same risks.
You might be wondering about trans fat. While trans fat can occur naturally in small amounts, most often, the type people think about is partially hydrogenated oil or artificial trans fat. Synthetic forms of this fat were banned in the U.S. because of its effects on cholesterol levels. It also positively affects the risks of heart attack and stroke.
Further Understanding of Good or Unsaturated Fats
Consuming foods with higher levels of unsaturated fats has the opposite effect of eating those high in saturated fats: blood cholesterol levels improve, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids — a good fat — can actually boost heart health; this particular saturated fat reduces irregular heartbeats, lowers blood pressure, reduces blood clotting, and improves cholesterol levels.
The unsaturated fat category has two primary fat groups: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are found mostly in nuts and most animal fats. Polyunsaturated fats are also found in nuts, but this group contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, and sardines.
Focusing on Eating Healthier
Food typically contains a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. To eat healthier, you want to ensure that the fats you take in are primarily unsaturated. Some easy ways to do this include:
- Using oil instead of butter for cooking
- Choose lean meats, like skinless poultry
- Eat more fatty fish twice per week
- Limit processed foods
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
While a healthy diet contains less saturated fats, remember that the best diet is one you can stick to long term. You do not have to eliminate all fat from your diet. For a healthier life, you want to balance the scale and stick to recommended limits for saturated fats.
Do you know any interesting facts about fat?