For decades, we have taken elaborate steps to shield our plates from fats, believing that a single mouthful would translate to an hour of pain on the treadmill. However, studies have begun to show that fat could be your friend in maintaining a healthy and lean figure. According to Barbara Roberts, MD: “Fats help you absorb vitamins A, D, and E” and they’re also crucial to your central nervous system. What’s more, research into heart health has discovered that monounsaturated fats could keep you healthier for longer. A study of women eating a Mediterranean diet filled with monounsaturated fat resulted in a 29% decreased risk of heart disease.
The truth is that we all need some fat in our diet. Nutritionally, the right fats do more than just pump you full of calories, certain variations are essential for developing hormones, maintaining healthy blood vessels and ensuring we have a robust immune system. Fat should make up 25%-30% of your complete daily calories – but the key is choosing the right kinds. For those who don’t know their saturated fats from their polys, here’s the skinny on the fats you should be avoiding, and the one that could make you healthier.
Identifying Bad Fats
The most damaging type of dietary fat you can eat is trans-fat. Trans-fat is a byproduct of hydrogenation, which transforms healthy oils into solids. The more trans-fat you eat, the greater the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol you allow into your system – thereby reducing the amount of healthy HDL cholesterol and putting your heart health at risk. Trans-fats lead to inflammation throughout the body, which links to issues such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and various chronic illnesses. They can also develop insulin resistance, which heightens your risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, even the smallest amount of trans-fats can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. Statistically, every 2% of trans-fat calories introduces a 23% increased risk of heart disease. Some example of trans-fats include:
- Packaged snack foods (chips, crackers, popcorn)
- Candy bars
- Vegetable shortening
- Fried foods (chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
- Pizza dough, muffins and pastries
Finding Good Fats
As you may expect – the majority of good fats come from nuts, fish, seeds, and vegetables. They differ from things like trans-fats and saturated fats in the sense that there are fewer hydrogen atoms within their carbon chains. At room temperature, healthy fats should be liquid in form – not solid, and there are two main categories to consider: polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats.
When you visit an Italian restaurant and dip your bread into a bowl of olive oil, you’re enjoying some monounsaturated fat. These fats can help to lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your system, reducing the chance of stroke and heart disease. What’s more, they offer vitamin E in your diet, while delivering nutrients throughout your body.
Polyunsaturated fats are “essential”, meaning that your body needs them to perform normally. You can’t create polyunsaturated fats yourself – you need to get them from foods, and they work to build cell membranes, cover nerves, help with muscle movement, and blood clotting. So how do you switch up your diet to get more of the right fats in your system?
- Check your food product labels
- Eat more seeds, nuts and fish – try snacking on sunflower seeds instead of chips
- Dip your bread in high-quality un-saturated oils for taste, rather than using spreads
- Poach, grill, steam or bake foods – instead of frying
- Indulge in Walnuts, olives, peanut butter and avocados
Fat Is Friendlier than You Think
Everyone needs good fat in their diet – it makes your food taste better, packs you full of important nutrients and vitamins, and can help to keep you away from more dangerous fat options. Following a low-fat diet is likely to make you deficient in vitamins A, K, E, and D, and will likely have an impact on your immunity, limiting your body’s ability to heal itself, and lessening your bone health. If you want to embrace better health, then don’t ditch the fats – just make sure that you’re getting more of the right ones!
How do you feel about allowing fats back into your life? Do you have any great tips for switching out trans-fats for polyunsaturated options?