For years, nutritionists and doctors gave fat a bad rep, until people jumped on the avocado toast bandwagon because the whipped, green goodness is laden with healthy fats which help our bodies function in terms of organ protection, cell-growth, hormone production, energy, nutrient absorption, and insulation from cold. The key is distinguishing good fats from the bad ones! While bad fats, such as artificial trans fats and saturated fats, increase your cholesterol and put you at a greater risk for various ailments, good fats, such as Omega-3, actually decrease the risk of coronary artery diseases and support overall health and well-being. In fact, healthy fats can actually help you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, control your weight, and even fight fatigue. Modern research suggests that the smart play is to focus on choosing healthier fats and steering clear of the less healthy ones.
Good vs. Bad Fats
When we talk about the unhealthy dietary fats, they can generally be categorized in one of the two categories:
This type of fat generally comes from animal sources of food, such as red meat, poultry, whole-fat dairy products, butter, ice cream, lard, and tropical oils like palm and coconut oils. Saturated fats are notorious for elevating bad LDL cholesterol levels, and increasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases. While there’s no need to completely eliminate all saturated fat from your diet, experts recommend keeping the consumption no more than 10% of your daily calories.
While meat and dairy products contain traces of naturally-occurring trans-fat, it’s the artificial trans-fats that you need to worry about. These trans-fats actually decrease your good HDL levels as well as elevating bad LDL cholesterol. Artificial Trans-fats increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, and other chronic conditions. Be sure to check food labels so that no amount of artificial Trans fats enter your body. Research shows that eating Trans-fats causes inflammation, damages the inner lining of the liver, increases risks for cardiovascular diseases, and leads to insulin resistance. Primary sources of Trans fat include packages snacks, commercially baked pizza dough, cakes, muffins, cookies, and pastries, fried foods, vegetable shortening, stick margarine, or anything containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
The potentially helpful types of dietary fat are primarily unsaturated fats, including:
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
These healthy fats serve to increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol in the body. If you want to cholesterol levels and in turn, reduce your risk for various diseases, try to incorporate more monounsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, in your diet, instead of saturated fats, such as butter and lard. Rich sources of mono-saturated fats include sesame oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, olive oil, canola oil, olives, peanut butter, avocados, and nuts such as cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and macadamia.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
This type of fat is found mostly in plant-based foods and oils, in addition to liquid plant-based cooking oils, fatty fish, ground flax seed, and nuts and seeds. We have ample evidence to suggest that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids helps you feel fuller, fight inflammation, wards off bad mood, and reduces risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat which is excellent for your overall health. There are different types of Omega-3s, for instance ALA comes from plants while DHA and EPA are found in fish and algae. Omega-3 is shown to support a healthy pregnancy, protect against dementia and memory loss, ease inflammatory skin conditions, battle fatigue, ease arthritis and joint pain, and prevent symptoms of ADHD and depression. Best sources of Omega-3 include oysters, mussels, Tuna, Trout, Salmon, Herring, Sardines, and Halibut. In addition, there are plant based sources of Omage-3, such as spinach, Kale, Edamame, Mayonnaise, canola oil, Walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, eggs, and algae. Even though Omega-3 is amply found in foods, you can also get your fill of omega-3 via omega-3 and fish oil supplements available.
Tips for Adding More Healthy Fats to Your Diet
There is no need to obsessively count fat grams if you are eating a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, beans, nuts, and fruits with moderate amounts of dairy, two or more weekly servings of fatty fish, and only a small amounts of red meat. Nonetheless, here are a few tips to help you incorporate more healthy fats into your diet:
Avoid trans-fat as much as possible by checking food labels to see the amount of Trans fat listed. Check the ingredient lists for anything listed as ʺpartially hydrogenated. If nutritional information is not available in restaurants, try to avoid fried and baked goods.
Incorporate healthy fats into your daily meals. For instance, add olives in your salads, sandwiches, and pizzas, Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on your salad, Top your salads and yogurt with nuts and seeds, cook with olive oil, sunflower, or grape seed oil, nibble on nuts for snacks, order the cheese platter for appetizer, and add nut butter to your smoothie. Instead of reaching out for potato, corn, and tortilla chips; candy; packaged or microwave popcorn whenever the hunger pangs kick, go for nuts, seeds, crunchy vegetables, and nut butters as snacks.
Try to eat at least one source of Omega-3 in a day. In addition to various sea foods, try to get more of walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oils in your diet. Limit your intake of red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and add more fish and chicken to your diet. Even if you are eating red meat, go for leaner cuts and trim as much fat off of meat as possible before cooking.