Fats: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

The word “fat” often just gets a bad rap as we place negative associations of being overweight with it. But actually our bodies need fats for a variety of processes such as energy, to absorb vitamins and minerals, in building cell membranes, to help blood clot, control inflammation, for muscle movement, and for soft skin. In fact the 2005 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say that adults should get 20 to 35 percent of their calories from fats with a minimum of 10 percent. The problem with fat really lies in the fact that there are some fats considered “good” fats and others that are “bad” fats and the average American has too much fat, between 34 and 40 percent in their diet. This is due to so many foods having fats hidden in them so you may not even realize how much fat you are consuming and since fat is more calorie dense than carbs or proteins, it can lead to being overweight whether from good or bad fats. Consider that fat of any type measures at 9 calories per gram while carbs and proteins only measure 4 calories per gram and you’ll see that is quite a difference. Too much fat in the diet not only leads to being overweight but also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease. According to Alice Lichtenstein. DSc, a researcher at Tufts University, this makes it very important to choose the right fats to include in your diet.

Types of Fats
Fats are typically divided into two categories. These are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which are the good fats that are useful for getting cholesterol levels lowered and making the risk of heart disease less. The polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acid, is especially good for heart health and brain health. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and catfish, flaxseeds and walnuts are all good food sources for omega-3’s and so is AFA bluegreen algae. The form of bluegreen algae with the cell wall removed is particularly good for brain health as it is better able to allow its nutrients to pass through the blood brain barrier. Monounsaturated fats have also been found to lower the risk of heart disease and are found in foods such as olive oil, olives, nuts such as Brazil, cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, canola oil, peanut oil, and avocados.

Saturated fats are the “bad” fats that can increase cholesterol levels and clog arteries making you more at risk for heart disease. This is the type of fat you get from foods such as meat, eggs, dairy products with high fat and vegetable fats. According to the American Heart Association you shouldn’t get more than 7 percent of your calories from these types of fat. An even worse fat is trans fat. There is some amount of this type of fat in meat and dairy products, but the really bad kind is man-made that you find a lot of times in crackers, baked goods, cookies, margarine and used for frying foods.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Fats in Your Diet
With all the different types of fats and some being good, some bad, and some in-between, it can get confusing as to which to make sure you eat and which to avoid. The best way to make sure you are eating healthy and getting the fats you need is to include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet with the leanest sources of protein you can and get skim or low fat dairy. Then avoid frying foods and pay attention to sauces and condiments by getting low fat varieties. Also pay attention to the types of oils you use when cooking or making dressings and go for canola or olive oils instead of butter or margarines. Registered dietitian and nutritionist, Suzanne Rostler, also warns that you should make sure the carbs you get are complex carbs since simple carbs such as found in white bread or white rice can raise triglyceride levels which can lead to heart disease. When it comes to which fats to include in your diet and which to avoid, here’s a simple do and don’t list that may help you.

1. Polyunsaturated fats – Include fatty fish (not fried) at least twice a week in your diet as well as nuts, seeds, and foods with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Be careful with the omega-6 though as too much can actually lead to heart disease. The trick is to get the right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids which different sources list as 2 to 1 or as high as 4 to 1. Either of these beat the 10 to 1 that is found in most American diets. You want to make sure you are definitely getting more omega-3 than omega-6 and one easy way to do this is with AFA bluegreen algae that has the perfect ratio.

2. Unsaturated fats – These fats keep a liquid consistency at room temperature instead of being solid. Monounsaturated fats also fall into this category and include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Look for ways to incorporate these types of foods into your diet to replace saturated fat foods. For example, use hummus for a veggie dip instead of a dip with a sour cream base, sprinkle nuts on your salad or on top of fish, and add seeds to dressings or sauces.

1. Saturated fats – This type of fat should be limited in your diet to no more than 10% of your total calories. That means cutting down on meats, eating smaller portions (about 3 to 4 ounces) of fish and seafoods, and getting low fat dairy or cutting down on regular dairy product portions. You will get some dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs and shrimp, but according to registered dietitian and nutritionist Suzanne Rostler, if you don’t have elevated cholesterol levels then you are OK with up to 300 mg. of cholesterol a day. If you do have high cholesterol levels then you should stay under 200 mg. daily of cholesterol consumption which is about what is found in one egg.

2. Trans-fats – This is the worst type of fat and you should strive to eliminate it from your diet as much as you possibly can. Definitely strive to completely rid yourself of the man-made kind that is formed through the hydrogenation process that allows oils to remain solid at room temperatures. Read your food labels and if you see partially hydrogenated oil, hydrogenated, or shortening then look for a different product that doesn’t have this listed. Fried foods and a lot of processed foods have this so reading labels on the foods you buy is imperative to avoiding this type of fat. To understand the dangers of this type of fat you just have to look at the results of studies done such as one at the Harvard School of Public Health that reported every two percent of trans fat calories translated to a 23% increase in the risk of heart disease. If you look at it that way, is that piece of cake, cookie or slice of pie really worth it? The only good news about trans fats is that the FDA started making manufacturers list them on food labels and since the public has become more aware of how detrimental they are, many manufacturers are choosing to stop using them or at least reducing the amount they use. Even better news is that in some places trans fats are being banned from use in restaurants.

Just remember that fat is not a totally bad thing. It is the amount and the type of fat that makes the difference. Know what types of fats your body needs to stay healthy and which to avoid that are bad for your health and remember that both kinds do have extra calories that can add weight gain. Knowing how much and which kinds to eat will help you get the healthy fats you need in the right quantities and keep your body performing the way it should.

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