Kittle: Deciphering the healthy and unhealthy fats

Too much fat or a high-fat diet is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Low fat, no fat, bad fat—with so many diets and types of fat, the choices can be confusing.

Fat is important and necessary to many bodily functions and overall health.

However, too much fat or a high-fat diet is associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

My column today addresses a breakdown on the types of fat and how they affect your heart and health.

The four major types of fats are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.

Some examples of good fats that fall under the monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat categories include Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, avocados, olives, nuts, peanut butter, soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, walnuts, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, flaxseed,  salmon, soymilk and tofu.

Saturated fats and trans fats are known as the “bad fats” because they increase your risk of disease and elevate cholesterol.

Both tend to be solid at room temperature (think of butter or margarine).

Not all “bad fats” are completely unhealthy. Some such as whole-fat dairy products are a good source of calcium and protein, and can have positive health benefits when consumed in moderation.

Saturated and trans fat examples include high-fat cuts of meat, chicken with the skin, whole-fat dairy products, butter, cheese, ice cream, palm oil, lard, commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, packaged snack foods, stick margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods and candy bars.

In order to ensure adequate protein intake without increasing unhealthy fat intake, consume lean meats and poultry low-fat and fat free dairy products and beans.

No more than 10 per cent of your calories should come from saturated fat.

Consuming less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol is advised as well.

But more than just the amount of fat, it’s the types of fat you eat that really matter.

Bad fats increase cholesterol and your risk of certain diseases, while good fats protect your heart and support overall health.

In fact, good fats—such as omega-3 fats—are essential to physical and emotional health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Your body can’t make them. You can only get omega-3 fats from food while all types of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for you; omega-3 fats are proving to be especially beneficial.

Research has shown that they play a vital role in cognitive function (memory, problem-solving abilities, etc.) as well as emotional health.

More omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can help you battle fatigue, sharpen your memory, and balance your mood.

They can also be helpful in the treatment of depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder.

Nutrition tips

Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels and limit commercially-baked and fast food.

Limit your intake of saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.

Try replacing red meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible, and switching from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods to lower fat versions.

Eat omega-3 fats every day. Good sources for those include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil and soybean oil.

Cook with olive oil. Use olive oil for stovetop cooking, rather than butter, stick margarine or lard. For baking, try canola or vegetable oil.

Eat more avocados, olives and nuts. Try them in dips or salads. They loaded with heart and brain-healthy fats, they make for a filling and satisfying meal.

Dress your own salad. Commercial salad dressings are often high in saturated fat or made with damaged trans-fat oils.

Create your own healthy dressings with high-quality, cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil.