Healthy Fats: Can Fat be Good for You?
The importance of maintaining a healthy diet that provides the appropriate amount of nutrition is a well-known fact. However, there is often ambiguity regarding the role of fat in a diet; while fast food and the dangers of bad fats are common knowledge, many women are unaware that good fats play an important role in healthy eating habits.
In fact, healthy fats play a vital role in a woman's overall health and can help to reduce the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease. But what is the difference between good and bad fats and which types of fats should you be looking for on nutrition labels the next time you're at the grocery store?
Good and Bad Fats
Most foods contain several different types of fats, including saturated (or hydrogenated) and trans fats—which - both of which are bad fats and associated with increasing your risk of diseases like heart disease. However, most foods also contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, known as good fats, which can actually help to reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol, among other benefits.
We need healthy fat that comes from food (dietary fats) in our diets in order to function; fat also comprises several hormone-like compounds in our bodies called eicosanoids, which regulate the heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and the nervous system.
Dietary fats also carry fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, in order to maintain healthy hair and skin. Fat also helps to protect our vital organs and provide us with energy and insulation, while giving us a sense of fullness after consuming a meal.
However, too much fat adds unnecessary calories to our diet, leading to weight gain and even obesity. Obesity in turn is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoarthritis. Saturated and trans fats increase blood cholesterol levels as well as the risk of coronary artery disease.
It is recommended that no more than 35% of your daily calories come from fat; also, saturated fat should comprise less than 10% of your daily caloric intake, while you should limit your consumption of dietary cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams daily.
Healthy fats, also known as unsaturated fats, should be incorporated into your diet. By substituting these types of fats for bad fats, you can actually reduce your risk of diseases such as heart disease as well as your cholesterol level.
The three types of healthy fats are:
- monounsaturated fat: foods high in this type of good fat include olive, peanut and canola oils, as well as avocados and most nuts
- polyunsaturated fat: found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soy and cottonseed
- omega-3 fatty acids: this type of healthy fat is found mostly in seafood, including fatty, cold water fish like salmon, mackerel and herring. It is also found in flax seeds, flax oil and walnuts. Lesser quantities of omega-3 fatty acids are found in canola and soybean oils
Unhealthy fats increase your risk of cardiovascular disease because they increase your level of LDL (bad) cholesterol. The following are fats that you should limit your consumption of:
- saturated fat: this type of fat is found in animal products, such as poultry, butter and whole milk, as well as coconut, palm and other tropical oils
- trans fat: this fat is found in fast foods and commercially baked goods, such as doughnuts, French fries, cookies and cake
- dietary cholesterol: while your body naturally produces the cholesterol it needs on its own, cholesterol also comes from animal products such as meat, poultry, eggs, butter and seafood
Tips on How to Include Good Fats in Your Diet
Here are some suggestions on how to increase your consumption of healthy fats into your diet to ensure that you maximize your healthy eating habits:
- sprinkle nuts or seeds in your salad instead of bacon bits
- add avocado instead of cheese to sandwiches
- prepare fish twice a week instead of meat
- try adding peanut butter to rice cakes or popcorn cakes
- substitute chips and crackers with nuts, fruits or popcorn