Know Your Fats – The Good, Bad and Ugly
When it comes to diet, fat has long been considered a dirty word. Low-fat and fat free foods adorn every shelf in the grocery store, and you avoid anything with fat because you’ve heard how bad fat is for your body. What many don’t understand is that not all fats are created equal. There are good fats and bad fats, and rather than banishing all fat from your diet, you need to make sure that you get enough of the good ones for your body to function properly.
There are certain types of fat that you want to minimize in your diet, including:
Trans Fats, which are common in processed foods, snack foods and treats. Trans Fats fall into the ‘bad fats’ category because they raise levels of LDL cholesterol (often called bad cholesterol) and lower levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) in the blood, which may increase your risk of developing heart disease. Cutting down on this kind of fat is a good thing, so look for products labeled
“low in trans fats” or “trans fats free.”
You also need to be aware of how much Saturated Fat you are eating, which means cutting back on red meats and dairy products. Saturated Fats raise good cholesterol levels as well as bad, but you still need to minimize how much of them you consume. The key is to read food labels and look for saturated fat levels in the nutrition fact box – compare foods and choose ones that are lower in saturated fats.
There are two types of fats that are awarded the label of “good fats.” Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, which are found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and herring), fish oils, flaxseeds, walnuts and some vegetable oils (corn, soybean, sunflower), and Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, found in olive oil, canola oil, avocado and certain nuts (cashews, pecans, almonds and peanuts). There are numerous benefits attached to eating these types of fats, and they can help maintain a healthy heart (whereas the bad fats may increase your risk of developing heart disease). So, you need to include these fats in your diet but in moderation – excessive consumption, even of good fats, can have other negative consequences, like weight gain.
Historically, we’ve been given a lot of bad information about fats. It was only in the 1990s that researchers realized the harmful effects of Trans Fats, and before then they were widely used in many types of foods. There have been very popular diets that tell people not to eat any fats, or to eat only Saturated Fats, which have led to people avoiding things like avocados and nuts, which are very healthy foods indeed. Thankfully, we have better information these days, which can help us make much healthier choices.
Having said that, as with everything in life, it is about finding balance and making sure that the good things you do for yourself outweigh the bad. So go ahead and enjoy that butter croissant, just make it a once-in-a-while treat instead of an everyday breakfast option. Try to balance Saturated Fat rich treats with a couple of servings of omega-3 rich fatty fish or foods rich in good fats.
The bottom line – eat more good fats, minimize your intake of saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
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