What's the Deal With Healthy Fats?
Why Do We Care About Fats?
For years, American’s who dieted demonized fat in the foods we eat, resulting in the advent of “low fat” and “fat-free” foods.
The low-fat and fat-free lifestyle were touted as the way to cut calories and thus lose weight. This created an epidemic of sorts – men, women and even children who were afraid to eat foods like avocados and almond butter, all in the name of weight loss.
You can even find “low-fat” peanut butter – and who actually thinks that tastes good?
It is helpful to first have a basic understanding of what macronutrients are and what they do for our bodies.
The foods that we eat are composed of protein, carbohydrates and fat – macronutrients.
The Basics – Macronutrients
The foods that we eat are composed of protein, carbohydrates and fat – macronutrients. They are also composed of a multitude of micronutrients, such as vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, and molybdenum.
Carbohydrates are in most foods, although in varying quantities. When we think of “carbs,” we think of foods that are higher in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are foods that are broken down into simple sugars in the body, which is used as an energy source.
- Simple carbohydrates include carbohydrates such as sweet treats, foods made with white sugar, but also healthier options, like fruit and milk.
- Complex carbohydrates are starches. These are foods such as breads, rice, whole grain pastas and starchy vegetables, like potatoes, peas and carrots.
Proteins are considered the “building blocks” of the body. They are necessary because all cells contain protein. We need to consume protein to promote the production of new cells and the reparation of damaged cells. Protein sources include meats, cheeses, beans and nut butters.
Fats are also necessary in the diet – they are an energy source and they also promote absorption of key vitamins. However, fats get a bad reputation because they are higher in calories per gram and because there are various types of fats that ARE bad or your health.
The Fats You Should Add to Your Diet
We now hear about “good fat” and “bad fat.”
When we hear about “good fat” this means that although it is still higher in calories than 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate, it has proven substantial health benefits and does not need to be cut out of the diet as we had once thought. “Bad fats”, however, should be avoided if possible.
There are two types of “good fats” – polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fats. Let’s take a look at each and how you can include them in a healthy diet.
- Polyunsaturated fats include soybean oil, corn oil, various nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and trout. A bonus to polyunsaturated fats is that some of them contain Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Monounsaturated fats include various oils, such as olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil and sunflower oil. It also includes foods such as olives, peanut butter and avocadoes.
A good rule of thumb when trying to identify “good fats” is that they are often liquid at room temperature.
Healthy Fats and You
Do you eat any of the healthy fats listed above in your diet?
- 66% Yes, I eat healthy fats on a regular basis
- 32% I have some healthy fats in my diet
- 3% No, I haven't thought of adding any of these fats to my diet
The Bad Fats – The Ones You Need to Cut Out
Well – that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
However, if your lunch break involves a quick trip through McDonald’s drive-through, you’re undoubtedly consuming some of the more unhealthy fats – trans fats and unsaturated fats.
- Trans fats are absolutely, without a doubt, bad for you. The Veteran’s Administration states, “No amount of trans fats is healthy.” Trans fats are abundant in fried food, such as chicken nuggets and French fries. It can also be found in margarine, vegetable shortening and is thus found in commercially prepared baked goods, such as cookies, doughnuts, muffins and pizza crusts.
- Saturated fats are a bit more confusing because some food with saturated fat may be “ok” – it is best to have saturated fats in limited quantities and instead eat more of the “good fats.” Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature but in the case of tropical oils, such as coconut oil, may also be liquid. Saturated fats include fatty cuts of meat, whole-fat dairy, such as milk and cheese, and lard.
It is best to have saturated fats in limited quantities and instead eat more of the “good fats.”
The Bottom Line
Increasing healthy fats in the diet is helpful. Ways to increase the healthy fats include:
- Cooking with one of the monounsaturated fat oils, such as olive oil or canola oil. Cut out vegetable oil in baking and substitute canola oil. Fry eggs in olive oil.
- Plan snacks such as olives, nuts and peanut butter.
- Incorporate more avocados into your diet – make an avocado salsa or your own guacamole, slice it onto your sandwich or into your salad or omelet, or even eat it by the slice as a snack.
- Make your own oil-based salad dressings instead of purchasing commercial brands.
Written by Krystina Ostermeyer RN, BSN
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