Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle – Eat Healthy Fat!

I love learning new things, especially when there is much confusion surrounds the topic (thanks pop culture). To help us out, our registered dietitian, Laura Dudley has provided a great guide to knowing what fats to consume, and what to avoid:

NNM_Logo_2015_hires_lg_r1High-fat, low-fat, good-fat, bad-fat! No doubt, the great fat debate is confusing. To simplify it, let’s look at the current evidence based information about the effects of fat on health. For many years the American Heart Association (AHA) and nutrition experts suggested a low-fat diet to protect your heart. Current research suggests that the type of fat you eat is more important than the amount. Though, too much of any type of fat will lead to weight gain which increases health risks.

Research has focused heavily on how various fats affect serum cholesterol levels. This makes sense as high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in America. Three important serum cholesterol particles include LDL – bad cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – good cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Here’s what we know about how various types of fat affect cholesterol levels:

Trans-Fat: Just don’t eat it. You are way too important to eat anything with “partially-hydrogenated” in the ingredient list! We know that trans-fat increases bad cholesterol, decreases good cholesterol, and increases triglycerides. Triple disaster for your heart!

Saturated Fat: Eat as little as possible. We know that eating saturated fat increases the bad cholesterol (LDL). If you replace saturated fat foods with refined carbs (like white bread or sugar) you may lower your LDL but you will also lower your HDL (good cholesterol). The best bet is to replace saturated fat foods (cheese, butter, ice cream, red meat) with foods high in fiber and nutrients as well as the healthy unsaturated fats like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, avocados and olives.

The major sources of saturated fat in America’s diet are cheese and baked goods (sorry pizza, you contain both). Limit those and you’re biting into a healthy lifestyle! Keep in mind that coconut and palm oils are very high in saturated fat, and, to date, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the type of saturated fat in plant based foods are healthier than those in animal based foods.

Unsaturated Fats: Unsaturated fats come as monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Both are considered healthy fat. If you replace foods high in saturated fat with foods high in unsaturated fats you will reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL).

Good sources of healthy fats include olives (and olive oil), canola oil, nuts, seeds (and their oils), avocados, and fish. All foods contain a combination of MUFAs, PUFAs, and saturated fats. Even foods that are known to have healthy fats (like nuts) contain small amounts of saturated fat.

Make the Switch: Eight Ways to Switch to Healthy Fats

  1. Replace cheese with avocado, when possible.
  2. Try an olive tapenade or hummus on crackers rather than cheese.
  3. If you drink 2% or whole milk, make the switch to 1% and eventually non-fat.
  4. Ditch the powdered coffee creamers. They often contain trans-fat and/or saturated fats. Switch to 1% milk as your “cream”.
  5. Replace bottled dressings with homemade dressings using walnut, olive, or flaxseed oils, as well as different vinegars and herbs. Generally two parts oil, one part vinegar makes a tasty dressing.
  6. If you cook with butter or shortening, replace it with heart-healthy canola, olive or walnut oil.
  7. Replace red meat or pork with a four-ounce serving of fish at least two times per week.
  8. Replace a daily snack containing saturated and/or trans-fat with one ounce of unsalted almonds and a piece of fresh fruit.

Here’s a great visual of the spectrum of foods with healthy and less healthy fats.

If you’d like to learn more, the Harvard Nutrition Source has published a fantastic article on the subject: Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good

How do you bite into healthy fats? Share your tips and ideas!

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