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Fats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol is one way to reduce your risk for heart disease. Despite what you may have heard, though, fats aren't necessarily bad for you. In fact, your body needs fat to function. However, all fats are not created equal.

This is how the different fats compare, and how they fit into a healthy eating plan:

Trans-fats are produced during food processing. This is because trans fats keep food shelf-stable. Any processed foods made with "partially hydrogenated oil" contain trans-fatty acids, which raise cholesterol levels. Even if a food item says that it contains 0 grams trans fats, always read the list of ingredients, and avoid food items that contain "partially hydrogenated oil." This means there may be up to 0.5 grams of trans fats in the food item. Foods that contain these fats include margarines, vegetable shortenings, cookies, crackers, pastries, and deep-fried foods. The great news is we now recognize the dangers of trans fat, and some places like NYC ban its use in restaurants.

Recommendation: Eat NO trans-fat

Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol if consumed in large quantities in the diet. This type of fat is found in large quantities of animal products, including fatty meats, cold cuts, poultry skin, cheeses, butter, coconut oil, coconut oil shortening, chocolate and coconut.

Recommendation: Eat saturated fat in moderation. Avoid processed foods that contain sat fat, sodium and added sugar like cookies, deli meat and cakes. Go for whole foods like plain yogurt, cheese and grass-fed beef.

Dietary Cholesterol is produced naturally by the body. Dietary cholesterol is also found in foods that are derived from animals, but not plants. It is found in eggs, organ meats, shrimp, crab, squid, meat, dairy products, poultry and fish.

Recommendation: Eat cholesterol in moderation.

Monounsaturated fats help reduce your blood cholesterol when substituted for saturated fats. They are found in the greatest amounts in food from plants, including olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, nuts (including almonds, filberts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, peanuts), avocado, pickled herring, and peanut butter.

Recommendation: Use monounsaturated fats.

Here are some tips for getting more monounsaturated fats into your diet:

For baking: Use canola or olive oil instead of shortening or margarine.

For sautéing: Use canola or olive oils. Caution - if cooking at high temperatures, use canola oil.

As a spread: Use almond, hazelnut, cashew or walnut butter on whole wheat grains, spread on an apple, carrot or celery sticks (or use for dipping).

In salads: Use extra virgin olive oil (1 or 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar) with flavored vinegars. For a gourmet touch, try walnut, hazelnut or avocado oil.

Polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. There are many types of polyunsaturated fats. Two types are omega-3s and omega-6s. Many of us do not get enough omega-3s which are anti-inflammatory. These are found in salmon, sardines and other fatty fish, Less bioavailable forms are found in walnuts, seaweed, and other plant sources. Omega-6s are found in processed foods high in corn and vegetable oil. It is important to get a balance of polyunsaturated fats in your diet. to do this, try:

  • Eating salmon 1-2x a week.
  • Trying sardines in salad or on crackers.
  • Consuming nuts and nut butters regularly.
  • Cook with many types of oil like canola and sunflower oil.
  • Decrease your intake of processed foods to better your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.

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