There’s so much written about fat – whether it’s good fat or bad fat, whether eating fat makes us fat – that it’s not surprising that most people are a tad confused. Often, you read one thing one day only to see that it’s contradicted the very next day. But not to worry. Our guide found below will smooth out the confusion and provide you with guidelines about what fats to store in your pantry and which to use more sparingly.
First, it’s important to understand the word fat from a nutritional point of view. Your body makes its own fat from taking in excess calories. On the other hand, there is fat that naturally occurs in foods from plants and animals. These are known as dietary fat. Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates, that provide energy for your body. Fat is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions. Some vitamins, for instance, must have fat to dissolve and nourish your body.
Fat can essentially be divided into four groups – saturated, trans, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Keep in mind though, that regardless of the source, all fats contain 9 calories per gram. (Protein and carbohydrates have only 4 calories per gram).
The two fats that should be eaten in moderation are saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats derive primarily from animal sources. The highest levels of saturated fats are found in fatty meats and full-fat dairy products such as cream, butter and cheese. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels (in other words the “bad” kind), which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
In addition, many baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats. Some plant foods, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil, are also primarily saturated fats, but do not contain cholesterol.
It’s pretty easy to tell if a fat is primarily saturated, with the exception of the oils mentioned above. Most fats that have a high percentage of saturated fat or trans fat are solid at room temperature. They include beef fat, shortening, stick margarine and butter.
Artificial trans fats are the most hazardous kind of fat. Artificial trans fat are created when liquid fats undergo partial hydrogenation, a procedure that transforms them into a semi solid. When you eat artificial trans fats, they increase your bad LDL cholesterol levels and decrease your good HDL cholesterol levels. Be sure to read labels when grocery shopping as trans fat must lawfully be called out on a package’s nutritional label. Especially troublesome culprits include crackers, cookies, baked goods, fried and fast foods. Although trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in beef, lamb and some dairy products, nutrition experts believe that they do not to have the same unhealthy effect as artificial trans fats.
However, all is not scary and evil in the land of fat. There are indeed healthy fats and they come in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol). It’s important to have these on hand in your pantry and use them as part of your overall healthy diet.
Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, non-hydrogenated margarine, avocados and some nuts such as almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans and hazelnuts.
Polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in plant based foods and oils, such as canola oil, nuts and seeds. Like monounsaturated fats, they improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease, and can also help decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes.
One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3, which can help prevent clotting of blood, reducing the risk of stroke and also helps lower triglycerides, a type of blood fat linked to heart disease. The best sources of omega-3 fat are cold-water fish such as mackerel, sardines, herring, rainbow trout and salmon, as well as flaxseed and walnuts.
Another type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-6. It helps lower LDL cholesterol, but in large amounts it’s thought to also lower the good HDL cholesterol. Eat it in moderation. It’s found in safflower, sunflower and corn oils, non-hydrogenated margarine and nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts and sunflower seeds.
So, the skinny on fat is to reduce your intake of saturated fat, avoid or minimize consumption of trans fat, choose monounsaturated fats whenever possible and increase your consumption of omega three fatty acids. With the recipes found below, you’ll have no problem!!!