Whether you are dieting or not, you can't help but take the occasional peek at the nutrition labels of the foods you eat. And after you scan the calories per serving (or per package!), your eyes likely dart to the fat content. But before you feel guilty about eating foods higher in fat, consider the type of fats those foods contain. Not all fats are created equal and not all fats are unhealthy to eat. In fact, the American Heart Association has set forth recommendations on including fats in your diet and maintaining a healthy fat balance. While some fats remain detrimental to your health, the "good" fats have positive, healthy benefits.
What are "good" fats?
Good fats are unsaturated fats. And while eating monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as part of a healthy diet, they should still be eaten in moderation. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and become solid when chilled.
According to the American Heart Association, these fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood as well as lower your risk for heart disease. Monounsaturated fats can also reduce your risk of stroke.
Foods high in monounsaturated fats include avocado, seeds, nuts and nut butters as well as olive, canola, peanut, sunflower and sesame oils.
Polyunsaturated fats – also known as omega-3 fatty acids – are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Polyunsaturated fats are also found in flax seed and walnuts as well as soybean, corn, and safflower oils.
What are the "bad" fats?
Saturated and trans fats are the bad fats that can be detrimental to your health (not to mention your waist line). These fats are usually solid at room temperature and, contrary to the good fats, raise your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products, such as red meat, poultry, butter and whole milk.
Trans fats are found in processed foods, particularly baked goods like crackers, cookies and cakes, and fast food, especially fried foods like doughnuts and French fries. Trans fat is also found in shortening and some margarines. Trans fat is a hidden dietary demon but labels are now listing grams of trans fat.
What about cooking oils?
Oils are used in the preparation of many dishes including sautés, marinades, sauces, salad dressings and baked goods. Vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower and sesame oil are generally preferred as they are high in monounsaturated fats. Soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil are high in polyunsaturated fats and are recommended over those with saturated fats.
Oils with saturated fats include palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil. However, certified nutrition specialist at Vitamin Research Products, Inc., Dr. Shari Lieberman recommends using coconut oil (pure oil that is "not hydrogenated"). She says, "Although it is a saturated fat, it can be extremely healthy for you, and it contains lauric acid which is great for the immune system." To learn more about the healthy properties of coconut, read Coconut Lover's Recipes
Next time you are at the grocery store scanning the labels, opt for products with no trans fat and foods with lower saturated fat content. Avoid fast-food or eat it only in moderation and, if you are going to eat foods high in unhealthy fats, partner them with healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Here are some recipes including healthy fats:
Recipes with healthy fats: Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, Roasted Salmon with Walnut Sherry Vinaigrette, and Coconut Shrimp and Vegetable Pasta
Avocado Stuffed Crabcakes
Teriyaki Salmon Skewers with Grapefruit