Good Fat, Bad Fat

Fat can get such a bad rap, and as a dietitian in pains me when people avoid things like avocado because “they’re so fatty” or automatically reach for anything listed as “fat free” in the grocery aisles regardless the nutrition of the food. Fat can be great for you- it makes our food taste good, it can help create a feeling of satiety and can even be healthy for your heart. Below we break down the fats for what to avoid and the types to choose for keeping a healthy heart.

Fats to Avoid:

Saturated Fats- These fats are found in foods from animal origins such as meat, full fat dairy and also tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil as well as cocoa butter. You can also find saturated fats in processed foods- read the nutrition facts label and keeping the saturated fat content to 3 grams or less per serving. Saturated fat is on our bad list as it can raise your LDL cholesterol, the stuff that clogs up arteries.

Trans Fats- I introduce this fat to clients as the “devil of all fat.” Dramatic, yes, but I feel strongly about avoiding this man-made fat as it can both increase your bad, LDL cholesterol and lower your good, HDL cholesterol (the good stuff that can help to clean your arteries). Trans fat is found in foods such as stick margarine, shortening, some processed peanut butters and some packaged foods/baked goods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Fats to Choose:

Monounsaturated Fats- This form of fat is found in foods such as avocados, natural peanut butter, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, peanuts and canola, olive and peanut oil. This healthy fat can help to decrease the bad LDL cholesterol and increase the good HDL cholesterol; a one-two punch for heart health.
Polyunsaturated Fats- This type of fat may also lower the bad, LDL cholesterol and is found in sunflower seeds, tub margarine and vegetable oils such as sunflower, cottonseed, soybean and safflower oils.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids- This is a type of polyunsaturated fat that may actually help to prevent blood clots and the clogging and hardening of arteries. Omegas may also help to raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Find this benefit-packed fatty acid in foods such as fatty fish (examples: salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and rainbow trout), tofu and soybean products, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil. Try to include one serving per day of an omega-rich food and enjoy a serving of fatty fish at least 2 times per week to keep on track with recommendations from the American Heart Association.

A Note on Serving Sizes:
It’s always important to remember the serving size when it comes to fat as they do have the highest calories per serving than any other food group. For oils, 1 tablespoon per meal is a good rule of thumb and always check the serving sizes for nuts, seeds and nut butters to keep on track for calories.