For many years, the diet community taught that fat is your worst enemy in the quest to lose weight. Rather than counting calories, you were told to count grams of fat. Fat does play a major role in obesity, because there are so many calories in fat, but all fat isn’t bad for you.
Actually, fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Your body needs certain types of fat for energy and—strangely enough—heart health. Fat also helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals.
There are various kinds of fat, so it’s easy to get confused about what’s good fat, bad fat, and how many grams you can safely consume. Starting with the good and ending with the bad, the following fat summaries may help.
When it comes to fat, choose unsaturated over saturated. Unsaturated fats are divided into two categories: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. At room temperature, both of these fats are liquid.
Your body requires some unsaturated fat for normal functioning, cell growth, nerve transmission, muscle health, blood clotting, and inflammation reduction. When eaten in moderation, these fats help lower your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils and fish. The type of polyunsaturated fat found in certain fish, walnuts, and flaxseed is omega-3 fatty acid. At risk for heart attack or stroke? Eat more omega-3s. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, seeds, and nuts.
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods associated with the Mediterranean diet: olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. These foods are both nutritious and delicious!
Saturated and Trans Fat
Now to the bad: saturated and trans fats. Solid at room temperature, but also found in certain liquids, these fats are harmful to your health and lead to weight gain. They’re responsible for high cholesterol, artery blockages, and heart disease.
You’ll find saturated fat in animal products (dairy, eggs, meat, and poultry) and in palm oil and coconut oil. There are many different kinds of saturated fat, and while all are bad for you, some are worse than others. Unfortunately for dairy lovers, the saturated fat in dairy products (butter, cheese, whole milk, and cream) is the worst type of saturated fat when it comes to increasing your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.
Trans fats often show up on an ingredient label as partially hydrogenated oils. Meat naturally contains trans fat, but this type of fat is also artificially produced to provide a cheap way of adding fat to food. It’s found in processed, packaged foods like cookies, donuts, cakes, popcorn, and crackers.
Trans fats are worse than saturated fats on the scale of bad fat. They not only raise your bad cholesterol, but they also lower your good cholesterol. Avoid trans fat as much as possible.
While some fats are better for you than others, they all contribute to weight gain. Reduce the amount of overall fat in your diet and whenever possible, replace saturated fats with unsaturated. Taking this step will help you lose weight, be healthier, and live longer.
To cut the fat from your diet, read food labels, substitute full-fat dairy products with low-fat alternatives, use light salad dressings, and eat a vegetarian meal at least once a week. You should also toss the butter or margarine and use canola or olive oil. While you’re at it, avoid processed and fried foods. You may be missing some of your favorite familiar flavors, but your body and good health will thank you!