Good Fats Are Good for Your Health
Fat gets a bad rap in the nutrition game. While it’s true that bad fat will wreck your diet — especially if you’re trying to lose weight — it’s also true that your body needs a certain amount of healthy fat to thrive. The right fats promote brain and heart health, for example. They are also critical to your physical and emotional well-being. It’s not as hard to pick out healthy fats as you might think, either. It’s time to become better educated about fat so you can make healthy food choices.
Why Fear Fat?
Bad fats, or saturates, contribute to high cholesterol and coronary heart disease – both are major health concerns. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that 2.3 million people in this country live with the condition, many without even realising it. About one in every six men and one in every ten women will die from this disease.
Does Eating Fat Make You Fat?
Dietary fat is a major contributor to obesity, in part because it lurks in the foods people like to eat the most, like sweets or fish and chips. This is one reason obesity is on the rise globally. The 2014 Health Survey for England shows 61.7 percent of adults in this country are overweight.
Bad fats are traditionally found in:
- Commercially baked goods, such as bread, cakes or dough
- Packaged snack foods like crisps or biscuits
- Solid fats, such as butter or lard
- Fried foods
- Mixes for cakes or cookies
Weight management requires you to burn as much energy as you eat. The problem is that not all energy is created equal. Fat is a denser macro nutrient, so nine kilo calories of fat equal one kilo calorie of protein or carbohydrates. In other words, 10 kcals of fat count the same as 90 kcals of anything else.
Why Are Good Fats Healthy?
Good fats provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins that can be critical to a healthy diet. Healthy fats fall into two categories:
- Monounsaturated – Monounsaturated fats may help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). They are found in avocados, olives and certain oily nuts, such as hazelnuts or peanuts.
- Polyunsaturated – Polyunsaturated fats, known as heart-healthy fats, include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are found in oily fish like salmon, sunflower seeds and oil, walnuts and flax seed.
How Much Fat Is Too Much?
You should include a small amount of fats in your diet – between 20 to 35 percent of your total energy intake. It is tough to avoid all saturated fat, but you can limit your intake. Men should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat a day and women no more than 20g.
The UK uses a traffic light labelling system to encourage consumers to eat healthy. They separate good and bad fats to help you make the proper choices.
- Saturates = Unhealthy fats
- Fat = Mono and polyunsaturated fats
If the “saturate” label is red, that food is high in unhealthy fat content.
Tips for Choosing Healthy Fats
You can make small changes in your diet to add more healthy fats. For example:
- Cook with sunflower or olive oil instead of vegetable oil or butter.
- Be sure to measure all oils.
- Buy lean cuts of meat and trim any visible fat.
- Remove the skin from your poultry selections.
- Avoid store-bought salad dressings. Stick to balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or olive oil.
- Look for skim or low-fat dairy products and avoid whole milk. You can switch out fatty cheeses for cottage cheese or ricotta in recipes as well.
It takes more than choosing the right fats to live a healthy lifestyle, but when combined with a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables plus plenty of exercise, it will make a difference. You’ll feel and look better when you make smart food choices like sticking to healthy fats.
Public Health England, UK and Ireland prevalence and trends, 2016
NHS Choices, Understanding calories
NHS Choices, Coronary heart disease
European Food Information Council, New nutrition guidelines for Europe, halfway there, May 2011
British Nutrition Foundation, New regulations on food labelling
Writer Bio: Darla F is a full-time freelance writer and healthcare professional who specializes in helping agencies meet their goals by developing creative and engaging content.
- Darla Ferrara