Do you just gravitate to foods labeled “low-fat” while food shopping? Given the bad rap fat is getting with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent announcement to eliminate added trans fat from use in processed foods and restaurants, your inclination may be justified. But don’t forgo all fats and miss out on fat that is actually good for you!
Fat got a bad rap in the ’90s followed by a comeback in the last decade with avocados, olive oil, almonds, and more jumping in popularity due to their high content of healthy fats. This raises confusion for many trying to navigate the topic of food and nutrition. Is fat good or bad?
The most important foundation to remember when exploring nutrition is that all food can fit in moderation according to registered dietitians, the nutrition experts. The more healthful foods should be increased while less healthful foods should be decreased but do not necessarily need to be completely eliminated. Therefore, it is not necessary to label any foods as “good” or “bad” but rather recognize where they fit within overall food intake.
That being said, there are different types of fats that fall at various points along a health benefit continuum. The two overarching categories or fats are saturated and unsaturated. Most saturated fats come from animal products like butter, beef fat, and pork fat and are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats come from plants and fish and are liquids at room temperature. Trans fats are a third category of fats that do not occur naturally. They are created by hydrogenating plant-based fats, turning them from liquids to solids.
Trans fats are the most harmful of the fats, causing a decrease in good cholesterol levels (HDLs) and increase in bad cholesterol levels (LDLs). Trans fat is also a contributor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Saturated fats also worsen bad cholesterol levels and should only be consumed in moderation. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, do not negatively impact cholesterol and contain essential fatty acids and vitamin E which promote health.
Trans fats are often found in processed food items like cakes, cookies, chips, and crackers and consumption should be limited. So it is best to limit your consumption of heavily processed foods. Saturated fats are found in cakes, cookies, ice cream, sausages, hot dogs, and butter and should be consumed in moderation occasionally and not considered every day foods. Instead, focus on consuming unsaturated fats found in nuts, olive oil, canola oil, fish and avocados.
Remember, not all fats are bad! Eliminating all fats from your diet will result in missing out on essential nutrients found in unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats have many health benefits, including improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, improving brain function, and stabilizing heart rhythms.