Learn about healthy and unhealthy fats. Discover how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet.
When it comes to nutrition, fats have a bad reputation. But not all fats are unhealthy. In fact, certain fats are required for our bodies to function correctly.
In this article, we’ll examine why our bodies need fat, different types of fat, and how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet.
Why We Need Fats
Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are called macronutrients. Your body needs all of these macronutrients in order to work properly.
Fats provide your body with energy. Each gram of fat, regardless of type, contains 9 calories. Compared to protein and carbohydrates, fat is a much more energy-efficient nutrient.
Your body is able to store fat until it is needed. When your body accumulates too much fat, this can cause health problems like heart disease.
Fats help your body absorb certain vitamins. Your body needs fat to be able to get the benefits of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Our bodies use fat to help keep us warm. The fat provides an added layer of protection against cold weather.
Fat protects the vital organs inside our body. Organs such as the heart and liver are cushioned by a layer of fat. Without this protection, these organs would be more susceptible to injury and damage.
The body needs fat to produce hormones. Testosterone and estrogen are examples of hormones that require fats for proper maintenance.
Fats are important when it comes to growth and development. Particularly during infancy and early childhood, when the brain is developing rapidly, healthy fats are essential.
Types of Fats
There are three main types of dietary fat:
- Unsaturated fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Unsaturated fats help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Unsaturated fat can improve levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. This can lower your risk of stroke.
Sources of unsaturated fat include nuts and seeds, fish, and avocado. Unsaturated oils include olive, canola, corn, sunflower, and soy.
A diet high in saturated fat is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fat increases the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your body and can clog your arteries.
Less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from saturated fats. Minimizing your consumption will help protect against disease.
Animal products are one main source of saturated fats. Meat, dairy, shortening, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil are all high in saturated fat.
Since it both lowers the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and increases the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol, trans fat is the most unhealthy fat.
The risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke is increased with the consumption of trans fat. You should avoid trans fat entirely.
Partially hydrogenated oil, the most common trans fat, has been banned in the United States. Food manufacturers are no longer allowed to use this ingredient.
Foods that commonly have trans fat include baked goods, fried foods, microwave popcorn, margarine, and frozen pizza.
Fats as Part of a Healthy Diet
Incorporating healthy fats into your diet will improve your nutrition. Adjusting your diet is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of disease and maintain a healthy weight.
The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. Replacing trans fats and saturated fats with healthier options can lower the likelihood of having heart problems.
Being overweight increases the likelihood of having diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. In the United States, 74 percent of adults are overweight. 40 percent of children and teens are also overweight.
One place to make changes in your diet is in the baked goods area. Baking at home gives you greater control over the ingredients than purchasing store-bought baked goods.
Canola oil and sunflower oil are good choices for baking. Use these instead of unhealthier fats like lard, butter, shortening, or coconut oil.
When choosing meats, focus on lean options like chicken or turkey. If you cook beef, choose cuts that have less marbling. Trim any visible fat from all meats.
Limit the amount of processed meats like bacon and sausage which are particularly high in unhealthy fats.
When preparing meat, opt for cooking methods that don’t require additional fats. Roasting, broiling, and baking are healthy options. Frying meat in butter or lard should be avoided–if you want to fry meat, choose vegetable oil.
Fish and Seafood
A great alternative to red meat is fish or seafood. Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and trout contain omega fatty acids which are a healthy source of fat.
Just like meat, fish should be cooked in a way that minimizes the use of additional fats. Opt for baking or poaching fish.
Dairy and Alternatives
Since dairy products are high in saturated fat, it is best to choose low-fat varieties. Skim or 2 per cent milk has less fat than whole milk. Cream and ice cream are high in saturated fat too.
Choose cheeses that are lower in fat like mozzarella, cottage cheese, or feta. Choose low-fat yoghurt instead of that made with whole milk.
There are many dairy alternatives on the market that provide healthy options. Milk made from nuts, like cashews or almonds, are a good source of unsaturated fats.
You can also find cheeses that are made from nuts as well as ice cream made from soy. These products are typically lower in fat than their dairy counterparts.
Nuts and Seeds
An easy way to add healthy, unsaturated fat to your diet is with nuts and seeds. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans are great for snacking on. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds can be added to a salad.
Nut oils, like walnut oil, are another option. These are ideal for making salad dressings or drizzling overcooked vegetables.
Peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter are good choices as well. Choose nut butters that are 100 per cent nuts, without added oils.
High in unsaturated fat, avocados are a versatile fruit that can be added to your diet. They taste great on salads or sandwiches and can also be added to smoothies.
Olives are another source of healthy fats. These small fruits are good for snacking on or added to salads.
Incorporating healthy fats into your diet is important for reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Unsaturated fats are the best choice, while saturated and trans fats should be minimized or avoided.