Everyone needs fat in their diet. It helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins, gives us energy, insulation, and protection. Although it is easy only to focus our attention on how much fat we consume, the type of fat we eat is just as important, if not more, than the amount. Knowing the benefits and drawbacks of each type of fat is crucial in maintaining healthy survivorship.
Here are the different types of fats and what you should be aware of.
Saturated Fats are mostly found in animal products such as pork, beef, poultry, butter, and whole milk. These fats should make up no more than ten percent of your daily calorie intake. Nutrition Facts labels include a “calories from fat” line, so it is easy to keep track of your fat/energy consumption. Saturated fats are those that raise “bad” cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which can lead to both heart disease and several types of cancer. Some non-animal fats are saturated such as coconut oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Coconut oil, even though it is saturated, it does not raise “bad” cholesterol, whereas hydrogenated vegetable oil does.
Monounsaturated Fats are found in peanut butter, almonds, avocados, olive, and canola oils. These fats play a huge role in the Mediterranean diet, contributing about half of your total daily calories. Even though the Mediterranean diet is so high in fat, studies suggest that it lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease because of the types of fat consumed (mostly from olive oil and mixed nuts).
Polyunsaturated Fats include omega 3 and omega 6, which you’ve probably heard a lot about on your favorite health-food blog. Omega 3 can be found in flax, chia seeds, and oily fish such as salmon and sardines. Experts say this is one of the healthiest fats you can eat. It lowers blood pressure, reduces triglycerides, improves brain function, and slows the buildup of plaque in the arteries, among other benefits. The fat also forms substances in the body that reduce inflammation and blood clotting. Studies by the American Institute of Cancer Research indicate that increased consumption of Omega 3 rich foods is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and slowed tumor growth. An easy way to get more Omega 3 in your diet is to eat a handful of walnuts, about 2 ounces, per day. Also, eating dark fish, like salmon, one or more times a week will make a big difference.
Omega 6 can be found in nuts, poultry, and eggs and are also considered a healthy fat, but not as much as Omega 3. Most Americans have much more Omega 6 in their diet compared to Omega 3. Research has shown that a significant imbalance of these two fats can increase your risk of chronic disease. That is why the goal of many dietitians is to have their patients eat more Omega 3 as opposed to Omega 6. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t need any Omega 6. In proper amounts, it can lower cholesterol and help control diabetes. It only means that it is important to balance these two fats appropriately.
For healthier fat consumption, try swapping red meat for beans, tofu, fish, and lean poultry as often as possible. Also, opt for one percent or skim milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat yogurt. It is important to keep in mind that the quality of animal products determines the type of fat they contain. For example, eggs from chickens that have been fed properly will contain more Omega 3. The package may say, “Omega 3 Enriched.”
All of those alternatives work to decrease the consumption of saturated fats and increase your consumption of unsaturated fats. Another way to steer clear of saturated fats is to use olive, sunflower, safflower, corn, and flax oils instead of lard and vegetable shortening, which are the unhealthiest fats you can use. Even though unsaturated fats are considered healthy fats, keep in mind that they are still fats and have a lot of calories, so enjoy in moderation.