It is a common misconception that dietary fat is bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. In fact, fats are essential for numerous body functions, including cell membrane repair, body warmth, organ protection and energy; some vitamins, appropriately called fat-soluble vitamins, actually need fat to dissolve and be absorbed by your body. What is important to remember about fats is that some are healthier for you than others – and the types of fats you choose to consume will directly impact your health.
Firstly, let’s briefly touch on the unhealthy dietary fats: saturated fat and trans fat. These fats are commonly found in animal food sources. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are most often a result of food processing and are often referred to as synthetic or industrial. Synthetic trans fats can increase LDL and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol), thus increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on healthy dietary fats: monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). MUFAs are found in many food sources, including oils. PUFAs are most commonly found in plant-based foods, also including oils. Research has shown that a diet rich in both MUFAs and PUFAs can improve cholesterol levels, thus decreasing your risk of heart disease, and may also positively affect insulin levels and blood sugar levels, important considerations for those with type 2 diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of PUFA often found in fatty fish and may be beneficial to your heart by decreasing the risk of coronary artery disease, lowering blood pressure and protecting against irregular heartbeats”, says Dr. Samadi, Chairman of Urology and Chief of Robotic at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Below are some tips to help you choose healthy fats; remember, though, that even healthy fats are high in calories, please consume in moderation.
- Focus your food choices towards MUFAs and PUFAs and away from saturated and trans fats. When grocery shopping, be sure to read the nutrition label carefully and only choose foods where 0 trans fat is listed. Also try to avoid “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.”
- Use liquid plant oils when cooking and baking. Olive and canola oils are much healthier to cook and bake with, respectively, than butter.
- Incorporate at least one serving of omega-3 fats every day. Omega-3’s are found in salmon, tuna, walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed oil and spinach.
- Reduce consumption of red meat and dairy. These foods are high in saturated fat, so actively choose leaner cuts and consume them in moderation. Chicken, fish and nuts are good substitutes and provide healthier sources of fats. Instead of adding cheese to your sandwiches or salads, opt for avocado slices instead.
The bottom line: Do your research and look at what you’re putting into your body. The types of fats you choose to consume will directly impact your health.