Fats in Your Food: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Everyone hates fats, right? We go to great lengths to avoid them. But cutting fats completely is actually bad for our health. From Unjunk Your Junk Food.

Fats are an essential part of our diet. We need certain types of fats to aid in nerve development and brain function, and to make hormones. It’s no wonder that people on low-fat diets can be so cranky! We should be getting approximately 25 percent of our daily calories from fats.

The Good: Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fats are called essential fatty acids (EFAs) for two major reasons: they cannot be produced naturally by the body, so they must be ingested by way of food or supplements, and they are important for our immune system and brain function. Besides their health benefits, EFAs naturally make your hair more shiny. Great sources of EFAs include many of the foods that people avoid because “they’re too high in fat,” such as nuts, coldwater fish (salmon, sardines), soybeans, hemp oil, and seeds, including flax and chia.

Monounsaturated Fats
These help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad one) while boosting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good one). They are safe for cooking at low temperatures, and food sources include olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil.

Polyunsaturated Fats
Many health experts feel that polyunsaturated fats from whole food sources, which include nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains, are better than saturated fats because they are cholesterol-free and come from plant foods. These fats are unstable and easily damaged by heat and processing, so they offer the best nutritional value when eaten raw; for instance, eat walnuts rather than use walnut oil.

The Bad (Maybe): Saturated Fats
What’s all the fuss about saturated fats, the fats found mainly in animal foods, especially red meat, egg yolks, and butter, and also palm oil and coconut oil? They’ve been picked on for years as a major factor in the development of heart disease. However, natural health experts and forward thinkers have long suspected that saturated fats aren’t as bad as we think they are; after all, before the oil refining process, most of our fats came from animal fats. Researchers too are now starting to change their tune about saturated fats. In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published two studies showing no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Dig deeper, and you’ll find that it is unhealthy carbs that lead to heart disease, not saturated fat. Nonetheless, before you heat up the grill to make yourself a big, juicy steak, remember that moderation is key. In excess, saturated fats are not good for you.

The Ugly: Trans Fat
Foods containing trans fat, one of the most dangerous ingredients in our food supply, are a dime a dozen: margarine, cereals, granola bars, frozen pizza, fish sticks, puddings, peanut butter, chocolate bars, instant soup mixes, microwave popcorn, corn chips, pancake mixes, breaded foods, and more. They are hidden everywhere in processed foods, so read labels carefully! Keep an eye out for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, margarine, and vegetable shortening.

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