For years, health experts preached that eating a high-fat diet would increase our health risks and our waist lines. But not all fats are created equal, and some are actually good for you, notes Kristen Walter, a Virtua registered dietitian.
"Adults should get 25% to 35% of their calories from fat," says Walter. "Fats provide essential nutrients and vitamins your body needs to function properly, stay energized and remain healthy. It's important, though, to distinguish the good fats from the bad fats."
Lean toward the good fats
The healthy fats you need come from unsaturated sources: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They can improve cholesterol levels, reduce heart disease risk factors, improve vitamin absorption and more.
Monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of oils and food, and they can reduce cholesterol levels without decreasing HDL levels (good cholesterol). Food that has monounsaturated fats can satisfy hunger longer after eating.
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame oil
- Macadamia nuts
- Peanut butter
are found mostly in plant-based food and oils. Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. They also include omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs but can't produce itself.
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Safflower oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
Cut away the bad fats
Saturated fats and trans fats can sabotage your diet - or health in general. Both can elevate cholesterol levels, clog arteries, and increase heart disease risks.
Saturated fats are the biggest dietary cause of high LDL levels (bad cholesterol). They come mostly from animal sources such as red meat, poultry and high-fat dairy products. They also are found in tropical oils.
- High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)
- Chicken with the skin
- Whole milk, half & half, and cream
- Ice cream
- Palm and coconut oil
Trans fats are made when vegetable oil hardens through a food-processing method called partial hydrogenation, which makes the oil less likely to spoil. This method helps food have a longer shelf life. Trans fats can raise LDL levels, lower HDL levels and cause more heart health damage.
- Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
- Packaged snack foods
- Vegetable shortening
- Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish)
Make better substitutions
Yes, it can be confusing knowing the right fats to consume, but you shouldn't cut fats from your diet. Smarter substitutions and healthier alternatives include:
- Choosing leaner cuts of meat such as round, sirloin, tenderloin, and center cut chops
- Incorporating more fish and baked chicken into your diet
- Using olive oil instead of butter when you are cooking
- Substituting avocados for cheese in sandwiches or salads
- Blending flaxseed into smoothies, cereal, or Greek yogurt
- Using applesauce as a fat substitute for oil in many baked goods
- Mixing nuts, seeds and dried fruit into a trail mix (pre-portioned for a quick snack)
Don't always assume food products labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat" are healthier choices.
"Manufacturers may replace fat with sugar or add salt so that flavor is not sacrificed," says Walter. "This means many low-fat or fat-free baked goods may be higher in processed carbohydrates, and fat-free salad dressings may be higher in sodium."
Visit Virtua's Center for Weight Management
Everyone is different with unique dietary needs. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplements or vitamins. If seeing a dietitian is recommended, visit a dietitian who is registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Learn more about maintaining a healthy diet by visiting Virtua's Center for Weight Management located in Voorhees, Sewell and Moorestown, NJ.