Low-fat diets dominated for years as popular methods of weight-loss. However, your body needs some fat to function at its best, provide energy and keep you healthy. Understanding the difference between good and bad fats allows you to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are the most unhealthy type of fat. Manufacturers produce trans fat through a process called hydrogenation—heating the liquid vegetable oils in your food to make them solid. Many processed foods contain trans fats to preserve the products for longer periods of time without spoiling. These hydrogenated oils can be reheated multiple times, making them a convenient option for fast-food restaurants as well.
Unfortunately, the use of trans fats has many unhealthy consequences. Trans fats negatively impact your cholesterol levels, increase inflammation, and can lead to insulin resistance. Trans fats are also bad for heart health. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that 1 in 5 heart attacks could be avoided if trans fats were removed from the U.S. food supply. Another study suggests that every 2% of daily calories consumed from trans fat increases your risk of heart disease by 23%.
Manufacturers typically list trans fat on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oil.” In 2006, the United States passed a law that forced food manufacturers to list any trans fat on food labels. Due to this law, many food makers switched to other trans-fat-free ways of preserving foods to avoid listing hydrogenated oil on their products. Make sure to check your food labels and avoid foods with any amount of partially hydrogenated oil.
Saturated fats, while healthier than trans fats, are another type of fat to limit. This type of fat is generally solid at room temperate, like butter or the fat in meat. Saturated fat can be found in animal products like beef, chicken, and pork, whole milk, and cheese. Though a common staple in the American diet, saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels and adversely affect heart health. Be sure to eat saturated fats in moderation, and replace them with healthier options whenever possible.
Unsaturated fats are considered “good fats.” Unlike saturated and trans fats, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, rather than solid. Certain natural foods, like nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish, contain healthy fats. By replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. There are two main types of unsaturated fats:
- Monounsaturated fats are fats that stay liquid at room temperature, but turn solid when they are chilled. These fats are a healthy alternative to trans or saturated fats. This type of fat can be found in foods like olive oil, avocados, peanut-butter, and nuts.
- Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are essential in helping to build cell membranes, protect your nerves, and to help your body resist inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn, sunflower, and safflower oil; flax seeds, and seafood.
The United States Department of Agriculture suggests increasing unsaturated fats in your diet, and keeping daily saturated fat consumption to under 10% of your total calories. You can adjust your diet to include healthier fats by:
- Choosing fat-free or low-fat milk over whole milk
- Replacing butter or margarine with healthier oils for cooking
- Incorporating more seafood into your diet, and choosing lean cut options when eating red meat
- Selecting natural foods over processed or fast-food options
For help in creating a diet plan that incorporates healthy fat, make an appointment with an El Camino Hospital dietician. As a Health Perks member, you are eligible for a free 30 minute consultation. Learn more or call to make an appointment today.
This article first appeared in the May 2017 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.