Are you afraid of fats? If so, you’re not alone. Fat in foods has been vilified in America for the past few decades, as low-fat and non-fat foods became the norm and we were told that cutting even healthy fats out of the diet would help us get the body we want. In fact, it’s one of the biggest nutrition lies that the public’s been told throughout history.
Salmon might not get as bad of a rap for being high in fat, but its health benefits are worth repeating. By adding this fish fillet into your diet just twice a week, you’ll get the full amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the American Heart Association. Omega-3s reduce the risk of arrhythmia, decrease triglyceride levels, and can actually slightly lower blood pressure. When you’re at the fish counter, make sure to pick up the right kind—while pink salmon is the second best fish for nutrition and health benefits, farmed Atlantic salmon is one of the worst.
Trans fat. This is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods in small amounts. But most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. These partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Two recent studies completely debunked the arguments for a low-fat, high-carb diet. In an August 2017 study published in the Lancet, scientists concluded “a high carbohydrate intake was associated with an adverse impact on total mortality, whereas fats including saturated and unsaturated fatty acids were associated with lower risk of total mortality and stroke. We did not observe any detrimental effect of fat intakes on cardiovascular disease events” (3).
The body is able to turn ALA into usable DHA and EPA to some degree, but this isn’t as efficient as getting DHA and EPA directly from food sources that provide it. Even after extensive research, it’s not totally clear how well ALA converts into EPA and DHA or if it has benefits on its own, but health authorities, like those at Harvard Medical School, still consider all sources of omega-3s crucial in the diet. (20)
Consuming high levels of calories – regardless of the source – can lead to weight gain or being overweight. Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fats can also lead to heart disease and stroke. Health experts generally recommend replacing saturated fats and trans fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – while still maintaining a nutritionally-adequate diet.
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Along with nuts, seeds get high marks as healthy fats to improve good cholesterol. And flaxseeds are especially popular among nutritionists because of their versatility in a heart-healthy diet. “Sprinkle flaxseeds onto whatever you like,” says Haisley. “My favorite is with Greek yogurt or on my oatmeal. It is a great addition to salads or whisked into your favorite homemade salad dressing. You can even bake with it, too; try using 3 tablespoons of flaxseed in place of 1 tablespoon of oil or margarine in your muffins.” Try these cranberry-nut mini loaves with flaxseeds.
Fat tends to be considered “bad” because it is associated with weight gain and high cholesterol. However, certain types of fat give protective benefits to the heart if appropriate portions are consumed. The key is to understand how to choose the right amount of each type of fat, so we should look closely at the ideas of total fat and each type of fat.
Although for several decades the American Heart Association and other health organizations have advised people to reduce their saturated fat intake, studies have consistently failed to show a link between saturated fat and heart disease. Because of this, the role of natural saturated fats in a healthy diet is now being reconsidered. All in all, saturated fats appear to be neutral in their health effects.
Healthy fats in the right ratio are needed for bone mineral density and the prevention of osteoporosis. Fats are involved in calcium metabolism and the vitamins K2 and D are both fat-soluble nutrients that collaborate in building bone. Many factors influence bone health, but providing the building blocks for bone with adequate “good” fats and the ideal omega-3 and -6 ratio can only help.
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption. Therefore, they have been officially banned in the United States.
Meanwhile, the official unsaturated fat definition encompasses any type of fatty acid that contains at least one double bond within the chain. These fats are further classified as either a monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat based on the number of double bonds they contain. Unsaturated fats can include foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish.
You read that right. Even bacon has healthy fats! We recommend going with old school, full-fat pork. While opting for turkey bacon will save you about 13 calories and a gram of fat per slice, it also adds sodium to your plate—which can lead to high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your breakfast plate, serving size matters, so don’t pig out. A few slices are all you need.
Fish such as salmon and sardines are an excellent source of omega-3 fats, as is flaxseed. Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts) all contain different mixes of good fats. Egg yolks contain a terrific mix of both saturated and unsaturated fat (as does beef). Coconut contains a particularly good form of fat known as MCT (medium chain triglycerides). And extra virgin olive oil is a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fat.
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That being said, not all dark chocolate is stellar for your health. I recommend choosing a chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao or higher. This minimizes the amount of sugar and means you’ll be getting a solid antioxidant boost. And wherever possible, look for brands that do fair trade and use organic cacao beans to get the most bang for your buck.
SOURCES: Laurie Tansman, MS, RD, nutrition coordinator, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York; Lona Sandon, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; associate professor of nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, consultant, WebMD Weight Loss clinic; author, The Flax Cookbook (Marlowe and Company), Northern California; American Heart Association Advisory on Omega-3 fatty acids; Food and Drug Administration Advisory on Fish Consumption.
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Since sources of fat are more calorie-dense, it is important to understand what a serving of a fat is equivalent to. For example, one teaspoon of butter, margarine or mayonnaise is one fat serving. For times when you may not have a measuring spoon available, a visual equivalent of one teaspoon is the tip of your thumb. See below for examples of serving sizes for added fats.
Best of all, adding coconut oil to your diet is easy. You can use it for cooking or baking or even try applying it directly to the skin. Beware that when cooking directly with coconut oil, the flavor can be a bit overpowering for some. If that’s the case, try using a bit less. It’s also important to note that, at room temperature, coconut oil is solid, so it’s not the best choice when you need a healthy fat in liquid form. Additionally, when choosing a coconut oil, extra virgin varieties are best, as refined or processed coconut oils can eliminate many of the health benefits.
Additionally, over 90% of soy, corn, cotton (seed), and canola grown in the US are GMO. Olive oil is not a GMO oil. However, some restaurants blend olive oil with cheaper oil, such as canola oil. There are serious health risks associated with GMO foods, including immune system malfunction, accelerated aging, changes in the gastrointestinal system (leaky gut), and faulty insulin regulation.
But as you know, not all fats are created equal. Saturated and trans fats are the worst kind, as both increase the amount of bad cholesterol that enters the blood system. Bad fats also lead to inflammation, which can cause numerous debilitating diseases. All of the burgers, French fries, pizza and other greasy junk foods are loaded with these bad fats that can harm your body.