We need fat in our diet, but eating unsaturated fats can greatly impact your overall health positively, while eating trans fats can create serious health problems over time. By limiting trans fats and working to include healthier, unsaturated fats in your diet, you will boost your heart health.
Eating healthy fat is essential to our diet and tastes great too. It helps supply us with energy and provides us with essential fatty acids necessary for healthy skin, growth, and metabolism. Additionally, it helps in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. By shaping your diet to include more unsaturated fats, and avoid trans fats as much as possible, you are improving your health while still enjoying the satisfaction and flavor of fat.
Unsaturated or “good” fats are divided into two categories – monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They are both derived from plants, fish, and vegetables.
- Monounsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature, but become cloudy and solidify at cold temperature. Primary sources are plant oils like canola, peanut, and olive oils. Avocados and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, almonds) and seeds (pumpkin, sesame) are all also monounsaturated fats. These fats have been shown to lower overall cholesterol levels, decreasing LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increasing HDL or “good cholesterol.”
- Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Primary sources are fatty fish (salmon, trout, and sardines), corn, sunflower, safflower, and soybean oils. Polyunsaturated fats have been proven to reduce overall cholesterol, specifically lowering LDL or “bad cholesterol.”
Trans fats are found in hydrogenated products, meaning that hydrogen is added to their chemical makeup to make them more stable and less likely to spoil. These fats are considered “bad” fats, as they are known to increase LDL or “bad cholesterol” and decrease HDL or “good cholesterol.” Primary sources of trans fats are vegetable shortening, crackers, candy, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and many other processed foods.
Trans fats can raise cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. These types of fats should generally not exceed 1% of your total calories per day. Always look for “0g trans fat” on the Nutrition Facts label on foods. Be warned though that products can list “0g trans fat” even when partially hydrogenated fats are listed in the ingredients if there is less than .5g of trans fats.
As with any dietary change, it takes time and practice to switch from eating “bad” fats to “good” fats. Planning your meals in advance to include two or three dinners of fish or beans, and omitting packaged treats and snacks, can be a good start to changing from a trans fat heavy diet to one that is focused more on heart healthy, unsaturated fats.