Chew the Good Fat

The discussion is shifting as new evidence shows fats in general are good for you and even what we thought were "bad" fats may not be so bad after all. Either way, if you have a lot of fat in your diet or not, the best source of them is from fruits and vegetables.

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The debates continue to rage about how much fat should be in a healthy diet. A few years ago the Atkins diet burst onto the scene in a prominent way. The diet claimed that fat was not the problem in weight gain but that carbohydrates were the culprit. It advocated high percentages of fat and protein and low percentages of carbohydrates. Other diets have are coming to prominence in the last few years that advance the theory that high percentage fat diets are not only good for weight loss but also good for overall health.

The AMA, USDA and other health groups have established that certain fats in the diet are certainly good for you and important to have in the diet. Fats that come from fruits and vegetables are considered among the very best sources of fat in the diets. Avocados and Coconuts are getting the most attention of late.

What is the difference between the good and bad fats? There are four major types of fats, two of which are considered good fats and the other two we are advised to minimize in our diet. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the good guys while trans fats and saturated fats play the villains. The good fats help fight heart disease and lower cholesterol while the bad fats raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Generally the good fats are sourced from fruits and vegetables and will be in a liquid state at room temperature (think olive oil or corn oil). The bad fats are usually from animal fat and will be solid at room temperature (butter, margarine or tallow).

Monounsaturated fats include olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and sesame oils. Avocados, olives and all kinds of nuts are also great sources of these. Polyunsaturated fats include soybean, corn, safflower and flaxseed oil. Some nuts like walnuts and seeds like pumpkin and flaxseed come under the classification of polyunsaturated fats.

For decades, doctors, nutritionists and health authorities have told us that a diet high in saturated fats raises blood cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies have made headlines by casting doubt on those claims, concluding that people who eat lots of saturated fat do not experience more cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.

So does that mean it’s OK to eat saturated fat now? No. What these studies highlighted is that when cutting down on saturated fats in your diet, it’s important to replace them with the right foods. For example, swapping animal fats for vegetable oils—such as replacing butter with olive oil—can help to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for disease. However, swapping animal fats for refined carbohydrates, such as replacing your breakfast bacon with a bagel or pastry, won’t have the same benefits. That’s because eating refined carbohydrates or sugary foods can also have a negative effect on cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease.

In short, nothing has changed. Reducing your intake of saturated fats can still improve your cardiovascular health—as long as you take care to replace it with good fat rather than refined carbs. In other words, don’t go no fat, go good fat.

If you are concerned about your weight or heart health, rather than avoiding fat in your diet, try replacing trans fats and saturated fats with good fats. This might mean replacing fried chicken with fresh fish, swapping some of the meat you eat with beans and legumes, or using olive oil rather than butter.

Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats. Avoiding commercially-baked goods goes a long way. Also limit 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 include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.

How much fat is too much? Well that depends on one’s lifestyle, weight, age, and most importantly the state of one’s health. The USDA recommends that the average individual keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories, limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories  and limit trans fats to 1% of calories .

The American Heart Association has some great resources and tools for determining personal daily calorie needs, recommended range for total fats, and limits for trans fats and saturated fats.

 

-- Produce Buzz Staff

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