All Fats Aren’t Created Equal
Despite what the low-fat craze of the 90s may have led us to believe, fat is essential to health. It plays a role in protecting your organs, keeping your body warm, absorbing vitamins and minerals, and helping your body make hormones. Healthier fats do exist—but it’s important to understand the differences between fats so you can compose a well-rounded, heart-healthy diet.
Why does type of fat matter?
There are 3 main types of fats: unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. They all affect your body differently. Some fats can raise your cholesterol, while others can help lower it.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are good for heart health, as they increase our “good” HDL cholesterol and lower our “bad” LDL cholesterol. This helps to improve blood flow and decrease risk of heart disease.
It is important to incorporate both mono- and polyunsaturated fats into your diet. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats, which include omega-3 and omega-6 subtypes, are found in fatty fish (e.g. salmon), walnuts and plant oils.
Saturated fats come mainly from animal products and are solid at room temperature. Eating saturated fats has been shown to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which can lead to buildup of fat in our arteries. Over time, this can increase heart disease risk. Foods that contain saturated fats include red meat, full-fat dairy, and butter. Some plant oils such as palm oil and coconut oil also have saturated fats.
Trans fats also have a negative impact on heart health as they have been found to raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. While small amounts of trans fats are found naturally in certain animal products, most are artificially made by companies to make certain processed products more shelf stable. Trans fats are commonly listed in the ingredients as “partially hydrogenated oils.” A recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling will require trans fats to be removed from all products in the U.S. by July 2018.
How can I choose more heart-healthy fats?
Substituting unsaturated fats for the saturated fats in your diet can help you to better manage your heart disease risk. Here are 3 steps for getting started:
- Identify what foods you commonly eat that have saturated fats.
- Think about if you can substitute a source of unsaturated fat instead. For example, if you normally use butter on toast, try peanut butter or mashed avocado instead! You could also try switching from full fat dairy to 1% or non-fat dairy.
- If you can’t substitute healthier fats, can you limit your intake of foods with saturated fats? For example, you could limit red meat consumption to a couple of times per week instead of every day.
Knowing how to navigate the difference between healthier fats and fats that increase health risks can go a long way.