Facts About Fats: Using Healthy Fats to Lose Weight
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
There’s a lot of confusion about fats. We used to believe that “fat makes you fat”, but the truth is much more complicated. Healthy fats are essential nutrients that we need in our diet, just in moderation. Fat in your diet doesn’t equal fat on your body.
Why are fats important?
Dietary fat is one of three macronutrients that provides fuel to your body. A healthy diet includes a combination of protein, carbohydrates, AND healthy fats. Many people think dietary fats are just an energy source, but they also function as structural building blocks of the body and are essential for biological functions, including the growth and development of cells.
Dietary fat also helps your body better absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins (including A, D, E, K), which are essential for inflammation, blood clotting, and muscle movement. Plus, healthy fat helps us feel fuller and more satisfied. Fat isn’t the enemy if you’re smart about it!
How many different fats are there?
There are 4 major dietary fats in the foods we eat:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
The difference lies in the chemical structures and physical properties of the fats.
What are healthy fats?
According to the American Heart Association, the majority of the fats you eat should be either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Both of these fats provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.
Monounsaturated raise good HDL cholesterol, lower bad LDL cholesterol, and protect against the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
These healthy fats are found in:
- Plant-based liquids (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil)
- Nuts like cashews, peanuts, and peanut butter
- Sesame seeds
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) lowers the level of damaging LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Plus, PUFA also contributes vitamin E to the diet, which is an antioxidant most Americans really need.
Polyunsaturated fats include the essential fatty acids – fats your body needs but can’t produce on its own. These fatty acids are known as omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce blood pressure, decrease the risk of clotting, improve heart rhythm, and most importantly, they can improve blood vessel function to delay the buildup of plaque in coronary arteries. These acids are found in:
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring)
- Canola oil
Omega 6 fatty acids are known to lower your LDL cholesterol and have also been linked to protection against heart disease. Omega 6 fatty acids include:
- Vegetable oils (soybean, sunflower, safflower, walnut, corn oil)
What fats are unhealthy?
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, raise your bad LDL cholesterol, and negatively impact heart health. The American Heart Association recommends you limit saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily total calorie intake. As a result, your cholesterol will decrease and lipid profiles will improve.
Saturated fats are found in:
- Meat products (fatty beef, bacon, sausage, poultry with skin)
- Dairy products (lard, cream, cheese, or anything made from whole or 2% milk)
- Plant-based oils (palm, palm kernel, coconut oil)
Trans fats increase the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of good HDL cholesterol. This fat can create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions. They can also contribute to insulin resistance, which increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
According to the American Heart Association, even a small amount of trans fat can be harmful. For every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
Trans fats are found in:
- Fried foods
- Commercial baked goods (pastries, pies, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes)
- Pre-packaged snacks (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
These artificial fats are created through a process called hydrogenation, which turns healthy oils into solids to prolong the shelf life of packaged foods. You can avoid these by reading the nutrition label and avoid food with terms like “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated oil”.
How can I eat the right fats?
Eating healthy fats is crucial to your health. Replace foods high in saturated fat with foods that include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This can be done by eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and two or more weekly servings of fatty fish, as well as by avoiding processed and fried foods. Just remember, all fats – including the healthy ones – are high in calories.
Stay tuned for my next post to learn about healthy fats in cooking oils, check out our blog on the top benefits of eating healthy or fill out our online consultation form to get started with our weight loss program.