You read it on the pages of every new diet book that hits shelves in January and hear it preached by dozens of nutrition, fitness and medical experts, “Your body needs fat, but you need to choose the good fats.” Ok, so what are the good fats?
There are so many different types of fats: saturated fats, trans fats, unsaturated fats, omega 3s. . . with all those options, it can be hard to tell the good from the bad and even worse, food labels don’t exactly give it to you straight. Here’s the skinny on fat and, how the right fats can make sure your meals are full of flavor, while whittling your waistline.
Why Fat is Important
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, meaning they need to bind to a little fat in order to be absorbed and transported throughout your system. This means you are selling yourself short on valuable nutrients when you top your veggie-rich salad with fat-free dressing or skip the avocado slice on your California-style sandwich. Olives, nuts, sesame oil and avocados are all sources of healthy monounsaturated fats that not only fire-up your taste buds, but increase satiety – you feel full and satisfied for longer, which is key to weight management.
Polyunsaturated fats are a good choice because they are known for reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include sunflower seeds, peanuts and oil derived from nuts or seeds. Polyunsaturated fats also include foods that are loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, which are known for multiple health benefits, including fighting inflammation. If you love flavorful fish dishes, like herb crusted salmon or fresh tuna, you are in luck, these fatty fish are an excellent source of omega 3.
Fats to Avoid
There has been recent speculation that saturated fat may not be as harmful as previously realized, but the jury is still out about which saturated fats are “good” for you. A little saturated fat can aid in the transport of vitamins and bring flavor to your meals, but portion control is key. Cooking with 1 tablespoon of real butter or coconut oil can pack a real flavor punch, contributing less than 120 calories to your meal and approximately 13 grams of fat.
You can be certain that trans fats, the kind that lurks in many processed foods, are not good for you. Although the government required food manufacturers to remove trans fats from their products, there is still a tiny loophole – removal means less than 1 percent trans fat per serving. Food labels listing the any ingredient that is a “partially hydrogenated oil” contains trans fats.
Your best bet is to choose whole foods and avoid marketing gimmicks with call-outs advertising low-fat or fat-free on the label. These foods tend to increase sugar or sodium and contain other unnatural ingredients that contribute to weight gain.
The ‘Good’ Fat Foods
The dietary guidelines suggest that no more than 20 to 30 percent of your daily intake should come from fat, and keeping saturated fat intake below 10 percent of that portion. Most women should consume between 1200 and 1800 calories per day and most men between 2000 and 2500 – these numbers vary based on height, weight, activity level and weight loss goals. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, therefore 1/4 of an avocado contains roughly 7 grams of fat. A 1/4 slice of avocado contains about 80 calories total with 63 calories coming from fat. On a 1500 calorie diet, you have approximately 300 calories to dedicate to fat daily, just to give you an example.
Here are some top of top “good fat” foods to enjoy (in moderation) to improve satiety, boost vitamin absorption and cut your risk of disease.
- Avocado slices
- Sunflower seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Atlantic wild salmon
- Fresh tuna
- Olive Oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Almond butter