Healthy Fats to Eat As Part of a Nutritious Diet
Fat has an undeserved reputation as a diet food that is bad for weight loss and health. True, saturated fat is bad for health, as it is proven to clog arteries causing heart disease and stroke. However, health warnings to “avoid saturated fat” have been misinterpreted to mean “avoid ALL fats.” But the truth is, good fat is absolutely essential for good health.
NOTE: To understand how our digestive system digests and absorbs dietary fat, see Guide To Food Digestion and Digestion Of Fats.
What Type of Fat is “Good”?
By good fat, I mean non-saturated fat – both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. This type of fat or oil has numerous health benefits.
- It transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K throughout the body.
- It cushions and protects internal organs.
- Essential fatty acids (EFAs), benefit your heart, metabolism and immune system.
- Some EFAs are used by the body for structural, hormonal and electrical functions rather than for energy. These EFAs increase metabolic rate and increase fat burn off resulting in loss of weight.
- Fat is a concentrated source of energy.
Saturated fats include Hydrogenated Fats or Trans-Fats – frequently found in commercial bakery products and margarines. Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature. It is found in animal meats, chicken skin, lard, butter, hard margarine, cheese, whole milk and anything these ingredients are used in, such as cakes, chocolate, biscuits, pies and pastries.
Unsaturated fat (including monounsaturates and polyunsaturates) is usually liquid at room temperature and generally comes from vegetable sources.
The Best Fats/Oils
Really good fats/oils come from UNREFINED vegetable sources or oily fish. Here are some basic guidelines for how to choose the best type of fat.
- For cooking, choose extra virgin olive oil
- For salads, choose from flax oil, canola oil, soy oil, extra virgin olive oil, wheatgerm oil, walnut oil, hemp seed oil.
- Eat regular helpings of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna.
Note: Flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, canola oil and oily fish are great sources of one of the key essential fatty acids, omega-3.
What Fat/Oil is Best for Weight Loss?
If you want to lose weight, or if you’re on a reduced-fat diet, a good type of oil to use in cooking is a “Fat-Spray.” Fat-sprays typically provide 1 calorie, per spray/squirt. This compares with 120 calories per tablespoon of regular cooking oil.
Which is Best: Butter or Margarine?
Neither. Both have good and bad points. Choose whichever you prefer on bread, but use it SPARINGLY. Try to avoid adding it to other foods.
How Much Fat Do We Need in Our Daily Diet?
Official dietary health guidelines advise that fat makes up no more than 30 percent of total calories. On a 1600-calorie diet, this means about 50 grams of total fat per day. Of this, a maximum of 1/3 may be saturated fat.
For a concise explanation of how ALL surplus calories (from fats, protein AND carbs) are converted to body fat and stored as adipose tissue, see How We Gain Body Fat?
Fat Intake and Heart Health
Most heart experts and heart associations suggest a lower total daily fat intake, typically in the range 20-25 percent of calories. If you have high cholesterol, you MUST reduce your saturated fat intake to a minimum, and reduce your consumption of cholesterol-containing foods. To reduce your cholesterol, see my: Cholesterol-Lowering Diet