Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. It provides energy. It helps our guts absorb certain vitamins from foods. But what types of fat are good? What types of fat are bad for you? Should you be eating at all? Lots of questions, conflicting answers — but here are the real facts you need to know.
No doubt you’re confused, as dietary recommendations about fat have shifted over the last two decades. From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, nutrition researchers emphasized eating a low-fat diet.
This was largely because of concerns about, explains Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, who studies diet and heart health at Tufts University. Saturated fat that’s in the bloodstream raises the levels of LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol. This in turn raises the risk of heart disease.
However, when people started following low-fat diets, they didn’t only cut saturated fats. In many cases, they replaced healthywith processed carbohydrates. And, everyone agrees, that processed carbohydrates are bad for you.
People were cutting out fat altogether from their diets and replacing it with foods, like cookies, crackers, and ice cream, made with refined grains and sugar. While it is true that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease, replacing it with sugar and white bread is bad.
Fat: The Healthy Ones
Unsaturated fats are good for you. These come mostly from plant sources. Cooking oils that are liquid at room temperature, such as canola, peanut, safflower, soybean, and olive oil, contain mostly unsaturated fat. Nuts, especially almonds, seeds, and avocados are also good sources. Fatty fish—such as salmon, sardines, and herring—are rich in unsaturated fats, too.
Several studies have found that replacing saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats can reduce your risk of heart disease by about the same amount as cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Therefore, you and your family should actively make unsaturated fats a permanent part of your diet
In a study done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who ate higher-fat or lower-fat diets had similar rates of weight loss. They were also both successful at keeping the weight off.
For weight loss, it’s about getting a handle on whatever foods in your diet are giving you excess calories.
Fat: Avoid The Bad Ones
There are two types that should be eaten sparingly: saturated and trans fatty acids. Both can raise cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease.
Saturated fats are found in animal products (meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, and eggs) and in vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oils. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats to 10% or less of your total calories, while the American Heart Association recommends keeping them to just 7% of total calories.
- Choose a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Try a vegetarian meal, with plenty of beans, once a week.
- Select dairy products that are skim.
- Experiment with light and reduced-calorie salad dressings.
- Replace fattier sauces with vinegars, mustards, and lemon juice.
- Try to use unsaturated liquid oils, such as canola or olive, instead of butter or partially hydrogenated margarine.
- Limit your consumption of processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and desserts.