[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Understanding fats can be overwhelming—especially since doctors and dietitians have pointed their fingers at fats as a leading cause for weight gain and clogged arteries over the past two decades. But now, we know all fats are not created equally; some are better for you than others and are essential to maintaining a healthy diet. Dietary fat can fuel your body with energy, protect your heart and brain, and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K to keep you feeling fuller longer and maintain a healthy reproductive system. Let’s break down the fat frenzy, so you can learn the difference between “good fats” and “bad fats,” which to eat, and how much to eat.
WHICH FATS SHOULD I AVOID?
“Bad fats” are saturated and trans fats.
Saturated fats naturally occur in animal products like dairy (yes, that includes your beloved milk, butter and cheese), beef, chicken, baked goods, fried foods and plant foods (such as palm oil and coconut oil). With heart disease being the number one killer in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s important to know that saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood by promoting poor circulation and increasing your cardiovascular risk. Although coconut oil embodies antibacterial properties, like all saturated fats it should be consumed moderately, too, within daily recommendations.
“Out of every 100 people who die each year in T&T, 37 die from heart disease.”
Trans fats are the most dangerous. Small doses of naturally-occurring trans fats are found in animal and dairy products, but artificial trans fats are created through partial hydrogenation, a method in which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils like low-grade corn oil, margarine, and soybean oil to form solid fats. Partially hydrogenated oils are used in processed foods to increase shelf life. Many fast-food restaurants and street vendors use trans fats to deep-fry foods like chicken, barra, French fries and doughnuts. And baked goods, including cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza and cookies, are also no stranger to trans fats.
Fats affect your cholesterol levels. In general, cholesterol isn’t bad, but too much of it can be. Like dietary fats, there are good and bad types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the “good” kind; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the “bad” kind. It’s important to keep your LDL levels low and HDL levels high to protect your heart from disease and stroke. Both trans fats and saturated fats raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease. Trans fats, however, also decrease your “good” HDL cholesterol levels, leading doctors and dietitians to believe that trans fats are worse for you than saturated fats.
WHAT ARE SOURCES OF HEALTHY FATS?
Unsaturated fats are heart-healthy and found in nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish, tofu, olive oil and dark chocolate. There are two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Both fats raise HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) while reducing inflammation, lowering your risk of diabetes, dropping your blood pressure, and controlling your blood sugar.
Monounsaturated fats include nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and cashews), tahini, avocado, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, olives, and olive, canola, peanut and sesame oils. Olive oil has always been number one for heart health, but eating unsaturated fats in their raw, whole form like seeds and nuts will give you an extra boost of fibre and protein, which is especially beneficial if you’re vegan or following a plant-based diet.
Polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines), fish oil, flaxseed, hemp seeds, algae oils, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, peanuts, cold-pressed canola oil, soymilk, tofu, walnuts, chia seeds and Brazil nuts. Salmon and tuna actually contain their very own variety of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids—fat that your body needs but can’t produce itself. It keeps your heart healthy, even when consumed in small portions.
HOW MUCH FAT SHOULD I EAT?
Fats are the most energy-dense of all nutrients, which means it’s the highest in calories, and they may not always have beneficial nutrients, if you’re consuming large amounts of processed snacks made with vegetable oil, junk food or bakery goods. Eating too much saturated and trans fats, might cause you to suffer a calorie surplus, leading to weight gain and low nutrient intake.
Balance and portion control is key. The American Heart Association suggests that adults limit dietary fat to no more than 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories, while reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat.
Simply put, eating the right amounts and right types of fat will reduce disease risk and improve your overall health.