You may have heard the term “healthy fats” at some point. But what exactly is a healthy fat? Isn’t fat bad for you? And where do I find these healthy fats?
First of all, fats are needed for our body to function. Fat helps our cell walls be flexible and permeable, it is a source of energy – our body needs it to burn as fuel, and omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory (which, as I’ve stated in previous posts, chronic inflammation leads to disease). Extra bonus: fat digests slowly, so by eating a small amount of healthy fat at each meal, you’ll feel fuller for longer.
But isn’t fat bad for you?
Well, it can be. Trans fats are what we should avoid at all costs. These fats, found in many processed foods, are chemically altered to prolong the shelf life of packaged foods like margarine, shortening, cookies, crackers, and cakes. If the ingredient list includes “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil”, steer clear. Those are sneaky terms for “trans fat”. Trans fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol. That’s a lose-lose.
The jury is still out when it comes to saturated fat. Recent studies are showing that people who consume more saturated fat do not necessarily experience more cardiovascular disease than those who consume less. This is believed to be due in part to the foods that are replacing the saturated fats in diets. When we limit saturated fat in our diet, it is important to replace them with the right foods. For example, those who replace saturated fats with good oils (replacing butter with olive oil), will likely be better off than those who replace it with refined carbs (replacing your bacon with a bagel). This means that even though you reduce saturated fat in your diet, you may still be at the same risk for cardiovascular disease if you aren’t replacing the saturated fat with the right foods. My opinion is to limit saturated fat, but more importantly, when removing saturated fat from your diet, be sure to replace it with real, whole foods.
So what are the healthy fats and where do we find them?
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good guys. Monounsaturated fats raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats not only lower LDL cholesterol, but they also contain those important omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation. Here’s where you can find these healthy unsaturated fats:
- Nuts & Seeds (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin)
- Fatty Fish (salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, trout)
- Vegetable Oils (olive, canola, peanut, sesame, safflower)
Bottom line, don’t be afraid of fat – just be sure you’re eating the right kinds of fat.