Despite what many people think, we actually need some fats in our diet to stay healthy. Not only are they a source of energy, they also — among other things — help us to absorb vitamins and nutrients (vitally important), help with nerve transmission, and maintain the membranes of our cells.
On the other hand, eating too much fat leads to weight gain, heart disease and some cancers. A lot of people eat more fat than is good for them. And the thing to be clear on is that fats are not all equal. Some are good for your health in moderation, while others are definitely bad.
There are four types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats. The first two are broadly "good" and the last two "bad".
Coming down on the good-for-your-health side, these fats help reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol, and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. They help to lower blood pressure and can help control diabetes.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats are nuts (e.g. peanuts, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds) as well as olive oil, canola oil, avocados and chicken fat. Eating reasonably moderate amounts of these foods can actually aid weight loss.
Polyunsaturated Fats (incorporating Omega 3 and Omega 6)
These similarly helpful fats help improve the immune system, help guard against heart disease and can reduce the growth of tumours. They also help lower bad cholesterol. They’re extremely beneficial and you should include some in your diet.
Good sources of Omega 3 are oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel), again canola oil and walnuts, and various seeds. And foods rich in Omega 6 include corn, beans, soy, nuts again, evening primrose oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil.
Definitely look for Omega 3 and Omega 6 on food labels.
Now for the bad boys. Saturated fats significantly raise bad cholesterol and lead to artery blockage. They dramatically increase the risk of heart disease. You should always look for foods that are low in saturated fat.
The main culprits, as far as saturated fat foods go, are animal products, such as meat, whole milk, cheese and eggs, as well as some foods from plants, such as coconut oil and palm oil. You can do your body a favour by using skimmed milk instead of whole milk and trimming the fat off your meat. And only eat cheese and eggs in moderation.
Trans fats were invented when food producers started to hydrogenate liquid oils to give them a longer shelf-life. This led to the production of trans fatty acids which increase bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and lead to heart disease and strokes.
Unfortunately, trans fats are found in a lot of packaged foods and also deep-fried foods like french fries. You’ll find them in abundance in many packaged snack foods like chips/crisps and related products, as well as pastries and cookies/biscuits. Hydrogenated oils are also obviously full of trans fat.
Always read the food labels and avoid these as much as possible.
To Eat Or Not To Eat?
Some fats are clearly better for you than others and the bad ones should be avoided where at all possible. But you should also limit the amount of even the good fats you eat. Most foods actually contain both unsaturated and saturated fats and the producers will label them according to the fat that’s in the majority. So watch out!
Many of the foods you probably like are low in fat anyway, so try to make it a habit to eat more of these as you watch your fat intake. But don’t completely shy away from those foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and the healthier oils. If you’re looking to lose weight, or just to eat a better diet, these foods are good friends to you and you should enjoy them.
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