Are you afraid of fats? If so, you’re not alone. Fat in foods has been vilified for the past few decades, as low-fat and non-fat foods became the norm, and we were told that a low-fat diet would help us get the body we want. In fact, it’s one of the biggest nutrition lies that the public’s been told.
In most parts of the world, fat has always been welcome at the table. Over the last few decades? We’re only now realizing the truth: Not all fats are created equally. Our bodies need fat — more specifically, they need healthy fats.
There are many benefits that come along with eating a diet that includes the right fats. Think glowing skin and shinier, stronger hair for starters. Plus, healthy fats help keep your weight where you want it and support brain health.
But before we all leave our jobs for avocado farming (though that would be fun!), let’s step back and talk about the different kinds of fats. Some are not-so-great for your health and some you just can’t live without. The good news is, if you eat the healthier fats and don’t overdo it on sugars and refined carbs, you’ll probably have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. Not only will you be unlikely to gain weight, but healthy fats are likely to help you to stay slim!
WHAT FATS SHOULD I EAT & AVOID?
- Trans fats (try to avoid these completely): By now it’s common knowledge that these fats have no health benefits and may actually be harmful. While there are some naturally occurring trans fats in dairy products, most of the trans fats in a standard diet are man-made. They’re made by taking healthy vegetable fats and adding hydrogen atoms to them. This saturated version of an otherwise healthy fat is more shelf-stable, which is why trans fats often appear in margarines, fried foods, cookies, cakes and other processed baked goods. Not only do trans fats cause an increase in “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, but they also work to decrease “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Saturated fats (try to eat these sparingly): These fats have generally been thought of as unhealthy, especially when it comes to heart disease risk. Although, not all types of saturated fats impact your health the same way. For example, saturated fats from animal products, such as butter, cheese and fatty meats, tend to increase cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease risk, whereas the saturated fats in coconut oil, canned coconut milk and dark chocolate do not tend to have the same negative effect. So while adding some plant-based, unprocessed saturated fats to your diet may benefit your health, you probably want to avoid animal-based ones as much as possible.
- Monounsaturated fats: You’ll find these fats in foods like avocados, nuts and olive oil. They’ve been found to be beneficial in lowering breast cancer risk, lowering cholesterol levels, improving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and reducing belly fat.
- Polyunsaturated fats: These fats are found mostly in vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower). Omega-3’s also fall into this category, and they are considered the healthiest and most essential fats on the block. You’ll find omega-3’s in foods like flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and chia seeds. They are considered essential because your body cannot make them and you must get them in your diet to reap the benefits. These benefits include improving heart health and decreasing risk of stroke. The omega-3’s are also important for building brain cells and for a healthy functioning nervous system.
While adding healthy fats to your diet, don't forget that you must eat all fats in moderation. Fats have 9 calories as opposed to proteins and carbohydrates that have 4 calories. Too much fat can make you fat, so choosing healthy fats is not enough. Balance in your diet is still important to remain healthy overall.
ARE THERE SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE?
Fish oils are a fundamental supplement to take in order to boost your healthy fats intake. They're not only beneficial to your diet, but also improve skin and hair health, as well as your mental faculties. Fish oils also help with recovery, so if you're an avid gym-goer, integrating this into your diet will be extremely helpful. If you're vegetarian or vegan, there are options like chia or flax seeds to go for.
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