When we hear the word fat we get nervous. When low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets were all the rage in the 80′s, fat was pure evil.
I remember my girlfriends in high school munching on bags of fat-free cookies, unaware of the build-up of calories and sugar they were getting each day. Heck, I still have trouble convincing my dad, who very gradually lost weight on that model, that he should slow down on his carb consumption and focus on veg, high quality fat paired with low-fat protein.
Alright kids, fat is not evil, although some types of fat can be harmful to your health. So why all the hubbub about trans-fat and saturated fat? Just as in the case of carbs, no two fats are the same.
But generally speaking, fats are a necessary source of energy for the body. They help the body absorb certain vitamins and keep the skin healthy. They also serve as energy stores for the body.
Fat is crucial for babies’ brains in the developmental age, but as children become toddlers they should be decreasing the amount of fat consumed daily. In other words – ditch the baby fat!
Types of Fat
In food, there are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. I like to think of saturated ones as a thick, heavy paste, like butter and unsaturated ones as liquid like olive oil. But it’s always better to check the nutritional info on a product before you buy it since a food item might have both!
So to boil it down, saturated fats and trans fats raise blood cholesterol. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack, and also increases the risk of stroke.
Where do saturated fats and trans fat hang out?
- whole-milk dairy products
- fatty meats, including chicken skin, steak, bacon
- tropical oils
- partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- egg yolks
- store bought baked goods
The Skinny on Trans Fats
I avoid trans fat completely, because I do not eat processed foods or trans fat oils or spreads – although I sometimes consume small amounts of saturated fat. I love my cheese and the occasional steak with buttered mashed potatoes.
I keep in mind that my saturated fat intake should not exceed 7 percent of my total calories each day, even though my cholesterol and weight are in check! If you have weight issues, you should not consume more than 30 percent of your total calories from fat. So if you’re on a 2000 calorie diet, that means only 600 calories should be from fat, so if you order that double cheese burger you’re already over half way there for the entire day in just one sandwich – and we haven’t even added any fries to that yet!
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables with low-fat sauces that are trans-fat free
- Eat a variety of grain products, including whole grains
- Eat fish at least twice a week
- Include fat-free and low-fat milk products, legumes (beans), skinless poultry and lean meats, like pork loin
Ok, so we know that saturated fats aren’t good for you but what about unsaturated fats? They’re often found in liquid oils and come from vegetables. But remember they are still fats, so when you’re cooking with olive oil, you still have watch the amount! Fats contain more than twice the calories of either protein or carbohydrate, gulp!
Polyunsaturated oils, like safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, nut oils and seeds are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. They can easily spoil because of their molecular make-up so they better store in the fridge.
Monounsaturated oils, like olive, canola and peanut oils are liquid at room temperature but start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures.
Both types of unsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when used in place of saturated fats in your diet. I love the taste and smell of extra virgin olive oil and recent studies have shown that they are higher in antioxidants, and benefit your heart health. Read about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil on WebMD.
Learn more about the fats you should take in your diet in this article from the Mayo Clinic.
Related Article on Carbohydrates
We often call starchy and fibrous foods carbs but carbohydrates are found in many different foods. Learn more about carbs »