Our body needs us to consume some fat in order to work properly. Fat comes from a variety of sources, including dairy, meats, nuts, and oils. It can also be found in many fried, baked, and pre-packaged foods. Fat is a major source of energy and helps our bodies absorb vitamins. It is also essential for proper growth and for keeping us healthy. A completely fat-free diet would not be healthy, yet it is important that fat be consumed in moderation. Keep in mind that fat has the most calories compared to any other nutrient. Controlling fat intake is one of the most vital steps in losing or maintaining weight and preventing type 2 diabetes. Since our bodies only need a certain amount of fat each day, any extra that we eat is stored in fat tissue and causes us to gain weight. Fat can also be healthy or unhealthy for our heart, depending on which kind we eat.
So what are the different types of fat, and which ones are healthy?
- EPA and DHA Omega-3 – This heart healthy fat can help with lowering high triglyceride values in your blood. Omega-3 fats can be found in fish such as salmon, algal oil, and specialty egg and dairy products.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – Also considered heart healthy, these fats can help with improving cholesterol. They also help to boost mood, memory, concentration, and speech. Some sources of these fats include avocado, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, olive oil, and vegetable oils.
- Saturated Fats – This fat is mainly found in foods that come from animals (such as meat and dairy), but they can also be found in most fried foods and some pre-packaged foods. Saturated fats can be unhealthy because they increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels in your body and increase your risk for heart disease. However, they can be consumed in moderation because they are a good source of fuel for the brain and body. Many saturated fats are “solid” fats that you can see, such as the fat in meat. Other sources of saturated fats include high-fat cheeses, whole-fat milk, butter, and ice cream.
- Trans fat – This is simply liquid oils turned into solid fats during food processing. There is also a small amount of trans fat that occurs naturally in some meat and dairy products, but those found in processed foods tend to be the most harmful to your health. Trans fats serve up a double whammy to your cholesterol, by increasing LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (“healthy” cholesterol). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that consumption of trans fat can also lead to diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and more. In order to avoid trans fat, look on nutrition labels for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated”oils or shortening. Generally speaking, packaged food with a long shelf life contains trans fat.
So as you can see, not all fat is created equal. Be sure to choose heart healthy fats when grocery shopping or preparing your meals.