When walking around the grocery store, it may be extremely confusing trying to make the best choices. You probably will pass by many “low-fat” and “fat-free” products, which is due to the extremely bad connotation surrounding the word “fat”. However, fat doesn’t deserve its negative reputation. Many of the “fat-free” and “low-fat” options in the stores have to compensate for taking out the fat, leading to increased sugar in some cases. We know that too much of anything is going to have negative effects, but some types of fat have many benefits.
There are three different kinds of fat: trans, saturated, and unsaturated. Trans fat is made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation, which is used in the food industry to increase shelf life. Small amounts can be found in some animal foods, such as meat and milk, whereas larger amounts are found in baked goods, snacks, fried foods, and margarine. Trans fat can raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration is slowly phasing out partially hydrogenated oils, but make sure to check the food label for any trace amounts of trans fats and avoid it as much as possible.
Saturated fat should also be limited in the diet. It is usually solid at room temperature and is mostly found in animal products. Certain cuts of meat have higher levels of saturated fat than others. Chicken and turkey without the skin usually have lower levels of saturated fat when compared to beef. When selecting beef, purchase “choice” or “select” grades of beef instead of “prime,” and look for “round,” “loin” or “sirloin” on the package. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, which can lead to an increased risk in cardiovascular disease and other metabolic diseases. To lower your risk of heart disease, replace foods high in saturated and trans fat with foods containing unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fat is the “healthy fat” you may have heard of. These tend to be liquid at room temperature and usually come from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, olives, and some seafoods. There are two different types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids have shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. They may also decrease type 2 diabetes risk. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that are found in some types of fatty fish, comparable to salmon, tuna, and trout, and some plant sources including ground flaxseed, oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean), nuts, and other seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation in the body, blood pressure, blood clotting, and decrease stroke and heart failure risks.
Fat is not unhealthy. In appropriate amounts, it is needed for your body to function properly. When choosing healthy fat foods, be aware of portion sizes, as all types of fat are similarly high in calories. Some tips from Mayo Clinic to increase your healthy fat consumption include using oils to cook instead of solid fats, such as butter or margarine. Choose 4-6 oz of fish instead of meat at least twice a week. When consuming meat, choose lean meat and skinless poultry, and trim visible fats from meat products to help to cut saturated fats out of the diet. Be careful of “low-fat” and “fat-free” products, as these tend to be more processed and have additional sugar added to maintain a good flavor profile.