The diet industry consistently demonizes foods that aren’t actually harmful for you, and fat is no exception. With all the low fat and fat free products on the market these days, it may be hard to believe that you actually need fat for so many body functions! However, not all fat is created equal. Let’s talk about which fats to prioritize and which you may want to limit.
Healthy fats are your unsaturated fats and these can come in the form of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Omega 3s and Omega 6s are two types of polyunsaturated fats that also fall under the category of healthy fats – you’ve probably heard of these before! You can find unsaturated fats in foods like olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish such as salmon. You want most of your fats to come from unsaturated fats as these fats will help keep you full and satisfied as well as allow your body to better absorb fat soluble vitamins. These healthy fats can also improve cholesterol levels and benefit heart health. You can determine the amount of unsaturated fats on a nutrition label by subtracting the listed amount of saturated fats and trans fat from the total amount of fat. Aim to eat at least 2 servings of healthy fats each day.
Saturated fat is one of the fats you want to try to limit in your diet. Saturated fat can raise LDL cholesterol (the not healthy kind of cholesterol,) in your blood which can increase your risk of heart disease in the future. You’ll find these fats in red meat and dairy products as well as in fried foods and baked goods. Saturated fat is listed on nutrition labels, and you should aim to keep saturated fat under 10% of calories per day. Reading the daily percent value next to the amount of saturated fat can help give you an idea of whether or not that product is high in saturated fats. You do not have to give up the occasional burger or dessert, just be mindful and enjoy everything in moderation.
Trans fat is considered the worst fat for your health and can be attributed to the fact that it both raises your “bad” (LDL) levels of cholesterol while lowering your “good” (HDL) ones. Trans fat should be avoided when possible, and the amount is listed on the nutrition label for you to see. The problem is, if trans fat is found in a very low amount in a product, there are ways for brands to get around listing it as 0 grams even if that is not true. Read the list of ingredients and if “partially hydrogenated oil” is listed, that product contains trans fat. You’ll mostly find this in baked goods and fried foods.
To wrap things up, don’t avoid fats, but do be mindful of which fats you consume. Unsaturated fats are necessary components to a healthy diet, and should be implemented into your daily meals. Saturated fats are best in moderation, while trans fats should be avoided when possible. Learning to read and understand nutrition labels and ingredient lists will help you be more aware of the foods you put into your body!
If you’re wanting to learn more about fats (and receive a healthy fat food list,) learn to read nutrition labels, and more, check out our self-paced program, Your Nourished Route.
This article was written by Lindsey Moser, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.