It is very common to see “fat-free” or “low-fat” food items in the supermarkets these days. However, is it a good idea to focus such attention on reducing our dietary fat? The quick answer is yes, but also no. That answer seems confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps you’ve already heard much conflicting information about this topic.
The truth is, we need fat in our diet for good health. Fat helps to provide your body with energy, protects your organs, assists with cell growth, helps to absorb important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K; is essential to keeping cholesterol and blood pressure in check, and is vital for good brain function.
The issue, then, is what kind of fat your body needs for good health. There are good fats and there are bad fats. Let’s now consider each one.
Much of this type of fat is man-made and added to foods to increase shelf life. Trans fats are found in processed foods like potato chips, frozen pizzas, baked goods and crackers. This type of fat can significantly increase your risk of illness. such as heart disease and stroke. Remember to always check the food labels. If you see the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” appear on the label, do yourself a favor and leave that product on the shelf or in the freezer.
This type of fat is found primarily in animal products like meat and dairy. These fats can also be found in processed foods such as pastries, cookies and desserts. The primary health concern with fats is how they impact cholesterol levels. Eating too much saturated fat produces more LDL (bad) cholesterol which can cause plaque formation in the arteries. This can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Saturated fat-containing foods are typically higher in calories. This can lead to weight gain, which further leads to increased risk of disease. It is best, therefore, for good health to keep consumption of this type of fat very low.
This is the healthy kind of fat that you want to include in your diet, and there are two types — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Unsaturated fats help to increase good (HDL) cholesterol, which picks up excess LDL cholesterol in the blood and moves it to the liver where it can be broken down and disposed of. Your goal should be to have a high HDL-to-LDL ratio in order achieve and maintain better wellness. Unsaturated fats assist in facilitating this important balance.
Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados; nuts such as peanuts, almonds, pecans, cashews; seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds; and plant-based oils like olive and sesame.
Polyunsaturated fats can be found in flaxseeds, walnuts, pine nuts; as well as plant-based oils such as soybean, corn and safflower. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are incredibly beneficial for reducing inflammation in the body.
Your body needs fat to function properly. This macronutrient is essential for both physical and mental wellness. More benefits of fat include:
- Improved brain function
- Healthier blood sugar levels
- Stronger bones
- Improved skin
The bottom line is, the right kind of fats are important for good health. Avoid trans fats, eat very sparingly of saturated fats (if at all), and eat a wide variety of unsaturated fats, without overdoing it.
Photo by Lisa Fotios