You likely already know this: saturated fat is bad, and trans fat is really bad. This isn’t new information. (If you are surprised, scroll to the bottom of this article for a quick description of each fat). But, chances are high that you don’t know enough about the fat that is good for you – unsaturated fats. Yes, your doctor recommends you eat more fat. That’s because these fats are packed with nutrition and (with moderation) can actually help you lose weight. Here’s a summary of what makes healthy fats so essential.
Healthy fats fall into two categories: monounsaturated fatty acids which lower levels of bad cholesterol down and maintain blood sugar levels. and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are necessary to keep your brain and eyes healthy. Both types of fat support heart health as well as keep your body feeling full and help your body absorb A, D, and K vitamins. These fats are considered the first line of defense against heart disease, insulin resistance, many cancers, bone weakness and depression. That’s right, researchers found that eating more monounsaturated fats is good for your mood because they support the production of dopamine.
How to Add Good Fats to your Diet
Experiment with peanut or olive oils the next time you’re making a stir-fry or sautéing chicken or fish. Change up your salad dressing by drizzling your greens with sunflower oil. Speaking of salad, toss walnuts, flaxseed, or sunflower seeds on it. Other foods to stock up on include avocados and tree nuts. Add pistachios or almonds to oatmeal, a smoothie, or make a pesto. Fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, and trout) get a lot of press for being easy sources of healthy fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you get two servings of omega-3-rich fish each week.
All Things in Moderation
Good-for-you fats are still fats, meaning they’re relatively high in calories. All types of fat have nine calories in each gram, compared with four calories for each gram of carbohydrates or proteins. Remember, a little bit of a good thing can go a long way. Rather than adding unsaturated fats, swap them out for saturated fats (such as butter, beef, and cheese).
A Quick Refresher on Fats
Unsaturated fat: Considered the good-for-you fats and are composed of two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. You can recognize monounsaturated oils as a liquid at room temperature but solidify in your fridge (think olive, peanut and canola oil). Polyunsaturated oils will still stay liquid in your fridge (safflower, sesame, sunflower seed oil) and are also in nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
Saturated fat: Found mainly in palm oil, coconut oil, and foods from animals (cheese, whole milk, pork, chicken, beef). The American Heart Association recommends less than 10% of your daily calories come from this fat as it’s been linked to a higher risk of heart diseases.
Trans fat: This fat is never good for you and will soon be eliminated from all processed food in the U.S. It’s common in many packaged cakes and cookies, as well as margarine and shortening. Look for the term “partially hydrogenated oil” on food labels. Ideally, your diet has 0-1% of this type of fat.
Total fat: The American Heart Association would like to see us limit our total fat intake—and that includes the healthy kind—to less than 35 percent of our daily calories. To sum, aim for less than 35 percent total fat, less than 10 percent saturated fat and no trans fats.