It wasn’t so very long ago that your doctor would be the first to tell you that cutting fats from your diet was the first step to dropping pounds and living healthier. Our understanding of what is healthy is always evolving, and ongoing research is beginning to clear the bad name fats had only a few short years ago.
The Facts About Fat
Whether it is eggs, salt, sugar, or fat, the recommendations we relied on in the past are being rewritten. After many years of doctors and dietitians advising people to cut fat from their diets, we now know that for most of the population, consuming the right amounts of certain kinds of fats is not only beneficial, but it is also essential to keeping you healthy.
Dietary fat is sometimes described as a “macronutrient” that provides vital energy to your body. Fat carries some essential vitamins your body needs, and fat is also necessary for proper brain function, the health of your cellular walls, and helps your body regulate inflammation. In addition to this, certain kinds of fat also have a role to play in muscle function and blood clotting.
This is not to say that all fats are good, or that you can simply load up your diet with fat and not feel the effects. First of all, not all fats are created equal. How certain fats affect your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can vary from beneficial to outright dangerous depending on the type. Fats also tend to be very calorically dense, which means they have more calories by volume or weight than other foods. This can lead you to take in more calories than your body can use, especially if you do not typically consume a lot of fat. These excess calories need to go somewhere, and if your body can’t use them, you will begin packing on the pounds. Excess weight gain is linked to a wide variety of serious medical conditions, and while the fat may not be causing them directly, the excess calories certainly contributes.
Despite these risks, healthy fats are coming back into vogue and taking back the place they once had as an essential part of our diets. If properly managed, adding fats to your diet can improve your overall health, and may even help you burn calories faster. To learn more about the benefits of healthy fats, read on.
Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose
Make no mistake: some fats are still considered to be bad for you. Most of us have heard the names of the various kinds of fats, but that doesn’t mean we know what all the terms mean, much less which foods fall into which category. Understanding the different types of fats and what they do is crucial. Healthy fats added to your diet in moderation can help improve your overall health, but the wrong kinds of fats can put you at greater risk for life-threatening heart disease.
Thankfully, nutrition labeling can help steer you in the right direction. The various types of fats are broken out and clearly identified in nutritional labeling in the United States, which means it is easy to find out what is in the food you are eating. Increasingly, many restaurants are also providing information about the nutritional content of the food they serve, which means you can keep tabs on what you are eating even when you are eating out.
Good Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats
Healthy fats come in three main varieties: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids found in some plant-based foods, and omega-3 fatty acids typically found in fish. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are often found in foods that are liquid at room temperature. These include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly present in salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, and even sardines. Ground flaxseed, canola oil, chia seeds, and walnuts are also sources of omega-3.
These healthy fats are now known to provide a variety of benefits if consumed in appropriate amounts. Among these benefits are helping to improve your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lower your levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Managing your levels of HDL (or “good”) and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol has been shown to have an impact on your risk for cardiovascular disease. Keeping your cholesterol in check can also lower your risk of type-2 diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help lower your risk of coronary artery disease, and may provide a host of other health benefits as well.
There is always another side to the coin, and while some fats are good, others are a very different story. The two remaining types of fats have almost the opposite effects as healthy fats do. By consuming these fats, you may actually be increasing your risk for heart disease and other health conditions.
Saturated and trans fats are the dangerous fats, not just for what they can do for you, but because they are often found lurking in some of the most tempting food. These fats, known as solid fats due to the fact they are usually in solid form at room temperature, include beef and pork fat, butter, coconut oil, butter, and shortening.
Saturated fats are found in poultry, red meat, and high-fat dairy products. Unlike healthy fats, saturated fats can lower your HDL levels and raise the amount of LDL in your body. Though grouped in as unhealthy fats, saturated fats are considered by some to be on the “in-between” list. Foods containing saturated fats can be included in your diet in moderation, though they should not be included at the levels of unsaturated fats.
Trans fats are perhaps the worst offenders from among the fats. Though they occur naturally in small amounts in some foods, most trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils. These manufactured food products are a staple of many junk and snack foods. Trans fats were also a pillar of the fast food industry for a long time, and only recently has public pressure begun to change this. Trans fats are known to have similar and more pronounced effects as saturated fats, increasing overall blood cholesterol levels, raising your LDL and triglyceride levels. There is now a well-established link between diets containing high levels of trans fats and an increase in risk of cardiovascular disease.
Recommendations for Fat Intake
So, now you know the good from the bad, but what does that mean for including fats in your diet? Before you start modifying your diet, it is best to talk to your doctor or dietitian. This is especially true if you have already had some form of cardiovascular disease, gallbladder issues, or other dietary concerns. Good fats can help, but sudden changes in your diet can have unintended consequences.
How you go about modifying your diet is going to depend on where you start from and what your goals are. For many of us, the first step is going to be modifying the amounts of fat you are already consuming.
Most Americans will probably need to eliminate trans fats from their diet, and reduce the amount of saturated fats they eat. This doesn’t have to mean a bland and boring diet, though, as replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones can still leave you with many delicious options.
How Can I Start Eating Healthier?
You have been given the green light by your doctor or dietitian to get more healthy fats in your diet. Now what? Your healthcare professional will likely have given you a list of recommended foods that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. There will likely be a long list of foods available to you, and the foods below will probably be among them.
Like any dietary change, starting slow and eating things in moderation is usually the best policy. Too much of a good thing can certainly still be a bad thing, even with healthy fats. Balancing your diet and ensuring your overall caloric intake matches your lifestyle and activity level is a better plan than simply trying to fill your diet with as many healthy foods as you can.
In addition to being delicious, cheese is nutritious and is a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium, and contains many other nutrients. This protein-rich food, with a single thick slice containing 6.7 grams of protein—same as a glass of milk—contains powerful fatty acids that have been linked to many kinds of health benefits, including lowering your risk of type-2 diabetes.
Nuts are a good plant-based source of protein, as well as being high in healthy fats and fiber. Nuts are also high in magnesium and loaded with vitamin E. Studies show that consuming nuts is tied to a lower risk of many diseases including heart disease, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. A few healthy nuts to include in your diet are walnuts, almonds, and macadamia nuts.
3. Whole Eggs
Eggs may have gotten a bad rap over the last several years, but whole eggs are one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can find. Because egg yolks are high in cholesterol and fat, with a single egg containing 212 mg of cholesterol, or 71% of the recommended daily intake, they were considered unhealthy for a long time. Recently studies have shown cholesterol found in eggs doesn’t affect the cholesterol in the blood for most people.
Whole eggs contain a little bit of nearly every nutrient we need, are high in antioxidants, and contain nutrients like chlorine that many people do not get enough of in their diets.
4. Full-Fat Yogurt
Natural, full-fat yogurt is another good source of healthy fats. In addition to the nutrients found in other full-fat dairy products, yogurt is loaded with probiotic bacteria, which can have a powerful beneficial effect on digestive health. When choosing yogurt, make sure you read the label carefully. Many yogurts found on the shelves in your grocery store are low in fat, but filled with added sugar.
5. Dark Chocolate
No diet should be all bad, and a major bright spot of replacing bad fats with good ones in your diet is dark chocolate is definitely on the good list. Dark chocolate is very high in fat, with fat at around 65% of calories. It also contains 11% of your daily fiber and more than 50% of the RDA for copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
Dark chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure and prevent LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized in the blood. It is loaded with antioxidants, scoring even higher than blueberries.
If you are concerned with heart health, you may be happy to know that eating dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa five or more times a week may make you significantly less likely to die from heart disease than people who don’t consume dark chocolate. Some studies have even suggested dark chocolate can improve brain function, and may help protect your skin from UV damage.
As a great source of potassium, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fat, avocados definitely earn their rank on many lists of superfoods. At nearly 77% fat by calories, avocados are higher in fat than most animal products. Thankfully for us, the main fatty acid in avocados is the monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Also found in olive oil, this fatty acid has been shown to have various health benefits.
Studies have shown that eating avocados can help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL cholesterol. Despite being high in fat and calories, it has even been shown that people who eat avocados may weigh less and carry less belly fat than other people.
7. Fatty Fish
Fish like trout, mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, many different kinds of important nutrients, and high levels of healthy fats.
Fish is one of a small number of animal products considered to be healthy for you. Studies show eating fish is linked to being generally healthier, having a lower risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, and many other common diseases.
For people who can’t (or don’t) eat fish, fish oil supplements can be a useful way to get some of the benefits of eating fish. Cod fish liver oil is one of the best alternatives, as it contains all the omega-3s that you need, as well as a large amount of vitamin D.
Learn More About Healthy Fats
Like all decisions to improve your overall health, healthy eating is something you should start carefully, and with the advice of your doctor or dietitian. With the increased risk of heart disease associated with bad fats, and the potential for weight gain from the extra calories in fat, it can help to have some guidance from a medical professional as you get started.
Increasing your metabolism, adding protein to your diet, lowering your cholesterol, improving brain function, and even warding off dementia are all potential benefits of moving to a diet with the proper levels of good fats. Make an appointment today with NEW You Weight Loss to learn more about how to modify your diet, keep track of your fat intake, and spot potential pitfalls on your way to healthy eating.