Many people make the assumption that eating fat makes you fat. However, this is not entirely true. In reality, our bodies need some fat to stay healthy and functional. Also many products that claim to be low fat or fat free are still high in calories, and many are packed with additional sugar or other additives to make up for the missing fat. There is also research that shows people on low-fat diets have the same risk of stroke, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and obesity as those who aren’t.
What really matters is the type of fat that you eat.
Most nutritionists will distinguish between “good fats” and “bad fats.”
- These are saturated fats and trans fatty acids. Saturated fats are found in animal products (meat, poultry, and many dairy products). Saturated fat is also found in certain oils, such as, coconut and palm oils. Saturated fats can raise cholesterol, increase the risk for heart disease, and increase colon and prostate cancer risk.
- The other bad fats are trans fatty acids (or trans fats). There are small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in dairy and meat, but the ones to be concerned about are artificial trans fats. These are found in many fried foods, baked goods, crackers, cookies, processed snack foods, and in (some) margarine. These fats are considered to be the very worst health offenders. Studies have shown that consuming even small amounts of trans fats can increase LDL cholesterol, decrease HDL cholesterol, and contribute to a higher risk for heart disease.
- The good fats are unsaturated fats. The first of these are polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are found primarily in vegetable oils. Omega-3s are also polyunsaturated fats, and these are found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and some nuts. The beauty of these fats is that they have been shown to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega-3s are also great for brain health and reducing inflammation.
- The other good kind of fat is monounsaturated fat. This fat also reduces the risk of heart disease, and is generally a good natural source of vitamin E. One of the greatest sources for monounsaturated fat is olive oil. It can also be found in avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, sesame seeds, canola oil, and peanut oil.
The key to being healthy is to limit the amount of bad fats, and increase the amount of good fats that you consume. You do not have to eliminate all fat from your diet, just make better choices (skim milk vs. whole, etc.), and be sure to read food labels carefully.