What are Dietary Fats
Similar to nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, some vitamins and minerals, fats also hold some benefitting properties. Fat is an example of a nutrient and your body needs it for energy, to absorb vitamins, and to protect your heart from any damage and improve your brain health. In spite of what you are always told, fat isn’t always the culprit for your ill-health. “Bad” fats, namely artificial trans fats and saturated fats, are actually responsible for the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for, for instance, weight gain and clogged arteries. But “good” fats such as unsaturated fats and omega-3s are far from unhealthy. They are key in helping you manage your moods, affect your mind in a positive way, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
Know The Difference
- Unsaturated fats are “good” fats found mainly in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. At room temperature, these fats are liquid, not solid. There are two broad categories of good fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are abundantly found in most nuts, soy products, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, tuna, and salmon.
- Saturated fats are the “bad” kind and are found in meat and other animal products, such as butter, cheese, and all milk except skim. Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils, which are often used in baked goods found at the stores in your vicinity.
- Trans fats are the worst kind of dietary fat, found in stick and some other types of margarine. They can also be found in certain snack foods that you buy at the store or in a restaurant, baked goods, and fried foods.
The advantages of good fats are many. Not only are they good for physical health but they also play part in maintaining your mental and emotional health.
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, while increasing good HDL.
- Prevent abnormal heart rhythms.
- Lower triglycerides associated with heart disease and fight inflammation.
- Keep blood pressure normal.
- Prevent atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).
The following sources are rich in monounsaturated fats:
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
- Peanut butter
Following are the sources of polyunsaturated fat:
- Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines) and fish oil
- Soybean and safflower oil
Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in meat and dairy products but it’s actually artificial trans fats that are considered harmful for the body. This is the worst type of fat since it not only raises bad LDL cholesterol but also lowers good HDL levels. Artificial trans fats can also cause inflammation, which is further linked to heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions and contributes to insulin resistance, which increases your risk of catching Type 2 diabetes.
Following are the sources of Trans Fats:
- Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
- Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
- Stick margarine, vegetable shortening
- Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
Even though saturated fat is not as dangerous as the trans fat, it sure can raise bad LDL cholesterol and thus can negatively impact heart health. So it’s usually advised to keep a check on these fats as well. Consuming a negligible amount of 10% every day is good, for starters.
Primary sources of saturated fat:
- Red meat (beef, lamb, pork)
- Chicken skin
- Whole-fat dairy products (milk, cream, cheese)
- Ice cream
- Tropical oils such as palm oil
Omega-3s- The Saviour
Research has revealed that a diet rich in omega-3s may help in:
- Preventing and lessening the symptoms of depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder
- Protecting against memory loss and dementia
- Reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
- Providing relief in arthritis, joint pain, and inflammatory skin conditions
- Supporting a healthy pregnancy
- Fighting fatigue, sharpen your memory, and balance your mood
Go for Healthy oils
- It is better to use organic, un-hydrogenated vegetable oils such as olive, canola, safflower, and sunflower oil whenever possible.
- Choose less processed oils, such as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil as they contain potentially beneficial phytochemicals.
- When using olive oil, go for “extra virgin”. It contains additional heart benefits over regular olive oil.
Limiting your intake of “bad” fat is imperative to extract maximum benefits out of fats in general. Following tips will guide you towards a better fat-rich diet.
- Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. The best idea is to check food labels for trans fats. Restricting commercially-baked goods and fast food sure goes a long way.
- Lower your intake of saturated fats by replacing some of the red meat you eat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish. But don’t make the mistake of replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
- Eat omega-3 fats every day. Include a variety of fish sources as well as plant sources such as walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
- Cook with olive oil. Use olive oil for stovetop cooking rather than butter, stick margarine, or lard.
- Eat more avocados. Try them in sandwiches or salads or make guacamole. Along with being loaded with heart- and brain-healthy fats, they make for a filling meal.
- Nuts should be the call of your gut. You can add nuts to vegetable dishes, use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish, or make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.