The fat in your diet (dietary fat) is needed for your body to function properly. Certain vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and nutrients (like carotenoids) are fat-soluble, which means they need to be consumed with fat to enter your bloodstream. It is recommended to consume some fat at each meal to ensure the absorption of these vitamins and nutrients. There are four main types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats.
The Bad Fats
Saturated fat: These fats are abundant in meat and animal fat, dairy products, and in tropical oils like palm and coconut oil. They are solid at room temperature. Too much saturated fat increses both your blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in your arteries). It is best to limit saturated fat intake to 7% of calories. That amounts to about 16 grams on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Trans fat: These fats are solidified vegetable oils created to increase shelf life. They are present in deep-fried fast foods, commercial baked goods. Trans fats increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. It is best to avoid trans fats, and you can spot them in food labels and ingredient lists. Just look for the term “hydrogenated,” or “partially hydrogenated.”
The Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated fat: These fats are liquid at room temperature and are basically oils. Excellent sources are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados and most nuts. These fats improve your blood cholesterol levels by lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fat: These fats are also liquid at room temperature. Your body does not make these fats, so it is important to get these essential fats from your diet. Good sources are corn oil, soybean oil, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and fatty fish like salmon, herring, and sardines. Polyunsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels, and they can be subdivided into the omega-3 and omega-6 groups. Omega-3 fats need special attention because they are especially beneficial and are not prevalent in most Western diets. Therefore we need to make sure we consume enough of them. There are three main types of omega-3 fats in our diet. They are ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is the main omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets. It is found mostly in nuts, vegetable oils, and leafy vegetables. Both EPA and DHA are found mostly in fish and are often called marine omega-3s. Your body uses ALA mainly for energy and can convert this omega-3 fat into EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fats make up part of our cells, and they are important in how our hormones are made. There is also strong scientific evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are especially important in protecting us from cardiovascular disease.
Selecting Healthy Fats
- Avoid trans fats as much as possible and limit your intake of saturated fats.
- Instead of trans fats and saturated fats, consume unsaturated fats.
Putting It Into Practice
- Limit the amount of full-fat dairy products you eat.
- Instead of red meat, choose nuts, seeds, poultry, and fish.
- Use liquid vegetable oils, like extra virgin olive oil, in cooking and at the table.
- Eat at least one source of omega-3 fatty acids everyday. Good examples are fish (salmon, sardines, herring), walnuts, canola oil, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil.