12/28/2017 The Skinny on Dietary Fats
Alli Walsh, Social Media Strategist
The Skinny on Dietary Fats
Fats are confusing. Just 15 to 20 years ago, fat was a four-letter word and for health-minded folks, a super-limited dietary component. But the avoidance of all fats didn’t serve the population, which as a whole, didn’t gain health or lose weight by living a fat-free lifestyle. Since then, research has determined fats are a critical dietary component that promote physical health. But not all fats are created equally. Which are best and how much is too much?
Good-to-go fats. Good news first: some fats are healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats, or fat molecules that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, are usually liquid when at room temperature and solid when chilled. When used in moderation, these fats help lower risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing LDL cholesterol levels and provide nutrients like vitamin E, which help all the body’s cells. Find these healthy fats in oils like coconut, olive and sesame, as well as whole foods like avocado, nuts and nut butters.1
Only-sometimes fats. Your body needs the essential oils Omega-3 and Omega-6 to function, but it can’t make them itself. These fats support cell and nerve health, blood clotting and muscle movement.2 Find Omega-6s in cooking oils like corn, sunflower or safflower, and Omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil. While there’s no official recommended daily amount of polyunsaturated fats, the American Heart Association does recommend striving for the majority of dietary fats to come from a combination of mono and polyunsaturated fats.3
Limited fats. Saturated fats come from animal products like dairy and meat, as well as foods fried in animal fats. Organizations like the American Heart Association recommend limiting saturated fats as these compounds raise LDL cholesterol, increasing risk for heart disease. Shoot for no more than 5 to 6 percent of your diet to come from saturated fats and look for ways to replace it with healthier-fat alternatives, such as low-fat dairy and skinless poultry.4
No-go fats. The worst when it comes to dietary fats is trans- fat. Trans- fats are the result of a process called hydrogenation, where fats are heated with hydrogen and a heavy metal catalyst in order to turn them into solids.5 These solids stay fresh longer, a benefit to the companies that use them in their products. But although food manufacturers stand to benefit, those who consume them suffer. Studies show trans- fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, increasing risk of heart attack and stroke, and also promote insulin resistance, increasing risk of diabetes.6 Look for (and avoid) the following terms on nutrition labels: trans -fats, trans-fatty acids, partially-hydrogenated oils.7
The future of fat. In recent years, many diets encourage increasing amounts of healthy fats as a means to promote health and even lose weight. Eating plans like Paleo, Whole 30 or Keto look at fat, and it’s potential benefits, differently than traditional recommendations. Always talk to your doctor when considering a new eating plan. And look for upcoming Supplementally Speaking articles that dig further into thoughts on dietary fat.
1 “Monounsaturated Fat.” American Heart Association, American Heart Association, 24 Mar. 2017.
2 “The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-Between.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing, 22 Aug. 2017.
3,4, 5 “Polyunsaturated Fat.” American Heart Association, American Heart Association, 24 Mar. 2017.
6 “Saturated Fat.” American Heart Association, American Heart Association, 24 Mar. 2017.
7 “Trans fat: Double trouble for your heart.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Mar. 2017.
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