For years, we were told that for optimum health, we should cut back on dietary fat. Many Americans dutifully scrutinized the labels of everything from snack foods to sandwich spreads, with the goal of selecting products labeled as “low-fat.” Yet many of these products replaced fat with unhealthy sugars and refined carbohydrates, making the “low-fat” products as bad for us as their fat-containing counterparts—or even worse.
Experts now tell us that while we should continue to avoid bad fats, we should also consume more of the kinds of fat—including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—that are actually good for our health. We need a variety of fats in our diet for energy, to help us digest vitamins and other nutrients, for blood clotting, and even to help us maintain a healthy weight.
During 2016, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement saying that eating healthier fats could save millions of lives around the world. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science & Policy in Boston, stated, “Worldwide, policymakers are focused on reducing saturated fats. Yet, we found there would be a much bigger impact on heart disease deaths if the priority was to increase the consumption of polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, as well as to reduce trans fats.”
According to the AHA, good fats help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, which can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Here is a review to help you make a good choice of fats in your diet:
Fats that are good for you
Foods containing polyunsaturated fats include corn, soybean and sunflower oils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel.
Monounsaturated fat is found in some of those same foods, and also in avocados, and in plant-based liquid oils such as olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils.
Eat only sparingly
Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese and many other dairy products, and in palm and coconut oils. The AHA recommends that no more than six percent of the calories we consume in a day come from saturated fats.
Worst of all are trans fats (also known as trans fatty acids). Most trans fats come in the form of partially hydrogenated oils created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to keep it solid and to increase shelf life. Trans fats are used in many processed foods, so check the label and avoid them. Trans fats are so bad for us that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered food companies to phase out the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which are the major source of trans fats in the American diet.
So now that we know the difference between good and bad fats, does this mean we can consume all we want of the good ones? It’s important to remember that all fats have the same number of calories, so we can gain weight even if we stick to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
If you have questions about your own nutritional needs, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.