It’s hard to turn on the TV or read through a magazine without seeing advertisements and articles with strong and often conflicting messages about fats- are they good or bad for us? Luckily, researchers have put tremendous effort into understanding the effects of fats on our health. Let’s review the facts and learn how to incorporate more foods with healthful fats into each day.
There are three categories of dietary fats:
- Saturated fats come from animal sources such as red meat and full-fat dairy products.
- Trans fats are found in packaged snack foods, vegetable shortening, and fried foods.
- Unsaturated fats (the healthiest type) come from nuts, vegetable oils, avocados, soybeans, and fish.
- Swapping saturated and trans fat for unsaturated fat is the way to go for improved heart health. Easy substitutions include olive oil for butter, fish instead of red meat, and nuts instead of full-fat cheese. In general, switching to a plant-based source of fat or fish is a decent rule of thumb for making healthful fat substitutions.
- Heart-healthy omega-3 fats are essential in our diets because we can’t make them in our bodies. The omega-3s that are most easily used by our bodies come mainly from fish, but they’re also found in walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and canola oil among other sources in trace amounts. The American Heart Association recommends including fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring at least twice per week.
- Avoid trans fat from hydrogenated oils. These man-made fats are chemically altered to make liquid fats into solid fats that are more shelf stable and easier to use for frying foods. These fats are implicated in higher diabetes and heart disease risk. Luckily, most food companies are eliminating them in their products, but it’s still sensible to look for foods without hydrogenated oils or zero trans fats on the nutrition label.
- Instead of butter, use liquid vegetable oils in recipes and to add flavor to foods. If you love the flavor and texture of butter but are watching out for your heart, there are great tasting plant-based, trans fat free margarine options, or just decrease the amount of butter you use.
Keep in mind that a few simple steps toward replacing less healthy fats with more healthful options can make a difference in you and your family’s well being. If you’re interested in learning more about the amount of fat that should be included in your diet, check out our recent post on balancing fat intake for optimal heath.
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Kat Brown MS RD RYT is a San Francisco Bay Area based Registered Dietitian and Yoga Teacher. As a nutrition counselor, writer, cook, and yogini she seeks to inspire others to nourish themselves and live balanced, fulfilled lives.