Good Fat vs. Bad Fat: Making the Right Choices for Your Health
Fat’s reputation is not a good one. Many people shun foods that reveal more than miniscule amounts of fat on the label. But some foods, like wheat germ, contain heart-healthy fats, are low in calories and taste delicious. It’s time to take another look at fat.
Fat contains more calories — 9 per gram — than carbs and protein, at 4 calories per gram, but it is a satisfying and essential part of our diet. Vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as certain fat-soluble antioxidants such as lycopene, need to bind to fat to be absorbed — if there is no fat available, they cannot be used properly by the body. We also need fat for brain development and vision and hormone production.
Eating too much fat and the wrong kinds of fat is unhealthy, however. It can raise your blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. As part of National Cholesterol Education Month, we thought we’d catch up on our fat facts. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of fat found in foods.
Saturated fats: Yep, you guessed it, saturated fat is one of the bad guys. Typically solid at room temperature, these fats do their damage by increasing blood cholesterol levels. They are found mostly in foods from animals, including beef, lamb, pork, poultry and dairy products made from whole milk, as well as in coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter. Conflicting research exists as to whether plant-based saturated fats have the same negative effect on our heart health as saturated fats from animals.
Trans fats: Also known as trans fatty acid, trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to increase a food’s shelf life and flavor. When polyunsaturated fat becomes partially hydrogenated, vegetable oil becomes shortening or hard margarine, pie crust becomes flaky and pudding creamy. Consuming trans fats has a detrimental effect on our health, increasing harmful (LDL) cholesterol while decreasing good (HDL) cholesterol. Most trans fats are artificially made and used in store-bought cookies, cakes, candy and processed foods. Making your own baked treats, like these Chocolate, Almond and Wheat Germ Biscotti and Key Lime Tarts, helps keep trans fats out of your diet.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats: Found mostly in plant oils, these heart-healthy unsaturated fats can actually reduce blood cholesterol levels when used in moderation and in place of saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn, soybeans, many nuts and wheat germ, and are the main fats found in seafood such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. They are generally liquid or soft at room temperature.
Omega-3 (alpha linolenic acid) and Omega-6 (alpha linoleic) are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids with heart-healthy benefits. Walnuts, fatty fish (such as salmon, trout and tuna), hemp seed, flax seed oil and ground flax seeds are high in Omega-3. Try this Salmon with Lemon, Dill and Wheat Germ Sauce for a good dose of Omega-3. Monounsaturated fats include canola, olive and peanut oils and avocados.
How do you get your omega 3s?