Good Fats? They Do Exist

Published December 18, 2007

Updated Dec.  3, 2007 - There's been so much talk about fat lately - good fat, bad fat, trans fat - that you probably don't know which to avoid, which to eat and how much to include in your diet.  That's why it's important to get the facts about fat. 

Fat Helps Us Stay Healthy
Is it OK to have fried chicken or fish every now and then?   The answer is yes -"fat" doesn't have to be an ugly word.  In fact, fats are an essential part of a healthy diet.  They:

  • Supply the body with energy
  • Provide the building blocks for cell membranes
  • Help the body absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamins


All Fats Are Not Created Equal

Good Fats
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good forms of fat that can help your heart do its work.

Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils, such as corn and safflower oil, but not tropical oils (coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils). Other sources are many nuts and seeds like sesame and sunflower, as well as soybeans.

Monounsaturated fat is the healthiest type of fat. It's found in greatest abundance in canola, olive, and peanut oils, avocados and fatty fish, such as salmon.

  • They help you maintain a healthy blood cholesterol level and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • They help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated fats in your diet.

Bad Fats
Saturated fats are among the unhealthiest types of fat. Consequently, it is important to limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet. They're found mainly in meat, poultry (primarily the skin), butter, whole milk and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

Saturated fats may increase the risks for elevated LDL-blood cholesterol levels and heart disease.

Trans fats, found primarily in processed foods such as cookies, crackers, donuts, French fries and other commercial-baked goods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, are also unhealthy.

They have a similar effect on your body as saturated fats and should also be limited.

  • The main source of trans fat in our diets is partially hydrogenated oil. 
  • They raise the level of bad LDL-blood cholesterol and promote heart disease.
  • You can reduce the amount of trans fats in your diet by limiting the number of foods that contain them.  The Nutrition Facts label on food packages can tell you how much trans fat it has. 

Too Much of Anything Isn't Good
Fat is a necessity, but too much may make you fat by adding more calories to your diet than you need.

Fat is an energy-dense nutrient - meaning a small amount has a higher number of calories - compared to carbohydrates (from grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain food and high-fiber fruits such as peaches, apples, berries and melons) and protein (meat, eggs, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, tofu, broccoli, cucumbers). 

Fat has 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates each have 4 calories per gram.  That's more than twice as many calories per gram.

By cutting down on high-fat choices, such as fried and fatty foods, and replacing them with healthier choices, you can reduce the total number of calories you take in - which is helpful if you're trying to watch your weight.
 
How Much Is Enough?
So, how much fat do you need?  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily total fat intake between 20 percent and 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. 

If you're eating 1,800 calories per day, that means 360 to 630 calories should come from fat (which is equal to 40 to 70 gram of fat).  That includes fat in the foods you eat as well as fats you add to foods.

Smart Fat Choices
Remember healthy eating is all about choices.  Here's a few simple tips to get you started:

 

  • When cooking with fats, choose canola, peanut or olive oils instead of solid fats in the can.
  • When making potato, chicken or tuna salad choose low-fat or light mayonnaise instead of the full-fat versions.
  • Keep the green salads healthy - choose low-fat salad dressings, instead of the full-fat dressings.
  • If you're preparing dinner or go out to eat, choose baked or grilled poultry, fish or meats instead of the fried versions.  And remember to trim off visible fat from meats and remove the skin from poultry. 
  • To season beans, greens and other vegetables, choose lean turkey, low-sodium broth, onions, peppers and celery instead of bacon, fatback, pig tails, ham hocks and other fatty meats.
  • For smart snacking, choose fresh fruit, pretzels, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cereal bars, low-fat crackers, carrot or celery sticks and nuts, instead of potato chips, pork rinds, donuts, candy bars, snack cakes or cookies.

To help sort out what foods are best for your diet, check the federal food pyramid at MyPyramid.com.

For more fitness tips, go to A Healthy BET. Also, call 1-866-3-LOSE-IT for your "A Healthy BET" healthy living brochure.

Written by BET-Staff

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