Although fat gets a bad rap, it is an essential part of a healthy diet as it is one of the three major nutrients in food, along with carbohydrate and proteins. Fat aids in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A,E,D and K and balances the levels of good and bad cholesterol in your blood.

In this edition of Simple Food Terms Explained, we examine the different types of fats needed for balanced nutrition and see how we can ensure that you are eating enough of the healthy good fats and decreasing your intake of the unhealthy bad fats.

Good vs Bad

What makes a good fat versus a bad fat? The following are the types of fat (from healthiest to worst) and what food sources they are commonly found in:

  • Monounsaturated fat is the healthiest type of dietary fat. It is liquid at room temperature and is found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds and their oils and avocados. It reduces bad LDL cholesterol, and increases good HDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
  • Polyunsaturated fat, also a good fat is liquid at room temperature but solidifies slightly when chilled. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats, Omega-6 and Omega-3. The American diet is high in Omega-6 fats which have been found to promote the development of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, inflammatory disease and autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, Omega-3 fats actually inhibit the development of these diseases. Foods rich in Omega-3 are salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines and fish oils. Other food sources are walnuts, flax, hemp and chia seeds. Omega-6 are mostly found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
  • Saturated fat, a bad fat is solid at room temperature. It is mostly found in animal sourced food products such as meats, dairy, chicken skin and some vegetable based oils such as coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats raise levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood which contributes to atherosclerotic disease which can lead to heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 13 grams of saturated fats daily.
  • Trans fat, a bad fat is solid at room temperature and is mostly found in prepackaged baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, some vegetable oils and shortening. There are naturally found trans fats but most of what we find in our diet is the artificial kind produced by adding hydrogen to liquid oils in order to solidify them, known as Partially Hydrogenated Oil. Trans fats raises the bad cholesterol in your blood and lowers the good cholesterol, therefore it is very much a factor in developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are not considered a safe source of dietary fat and should be avoided.

Cutting the Fat

According to the Cleveland Clinic, our dietary intact of fats should be the following:

Monounsaturated: 15-20%

Polyunsaturated: 5-10%

Saturated: <10%

Trans: 0%

One gram of fat has 9 calories, twice as many calories as found in a gram of protein or carbohydrate. Therefore a diet high in fats will inevitably result in weight gain. Obesity is associated with heart disease, diabetes and cancers therefore it behooves you to limit the amount of dietary fats you are eating and try to focus on intake of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as much as possible.

Healthy and Safe Tips for Reducing Your Dietary Fat Intake

Before you undertake any new diet, consult with your physician to make sure that you are on the right course and that you will be receiving all the needed nutrients in your new diet. Next, familiarize yourself with the nutrition labels on food packaging. Get in the habit of reading these and examining the breakdown of fats, steering clear of foods that are high in either saturated fats and trans fats.

When buying and preparing meats, choose lean cuts of beef or pork and trim the fat before cooking. Also, opt for skinless chicken breast or remove the skin from thighs and legs as this is a source of unnecessary saturated fats. While low-fat dairy and cheese are good sources of protein and calcium, they also contain levels of saturated fat and should be consumed in moderation. While you decrease your intake of bad fats, try to include foods that are rich in healthy fats such as coldwater fish like tuna and salmon, nuts and seeds and avocados.

We hope after reading this article, you’re no longer fearing fat but see it as a macronutrient to be enjoy in moderation with the added knowledge of the effects both positive and negative that it can have on your health.