Many people assume that all fats are harmful to our health and should be eliminated completely from the diet. Believe it or not, fat is an essential nutrient needed by our bodies to perform many important functions. Fats are required to store energy, absorb fat-soluble vitamins, protect our organs, and insulate our bodies. Low-fat diets can be very misleading because foods that are labeled “low-fat” are not as healthy as we think. Typically, low-fat products replace fats with other substances such as refined carbohydrates from sugar, which can have many negative effects on the body including spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Incorporating good fats into your diet can actually help with weight loss and maintaining good health.
There are different types of fat, some that are healthy and others that can be detrimental to our health if eaten in large quantities. Fat intake can affect both our good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. Bad cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease or stroke if it builds up within the walls of your blood vessels and narrows the passageways. However, good cholesterol helps remove the bad cholesterol from your bloodstream, thus lowering your risk of heart disease.
The worst type of fat found in food is referred to as trans fat. Not only does this increase your bad cholesterol, but it also decreases the good cholesterol in your body. Trans fat is found in foods such as fast food, butter, fried foods, and certain baked goods. Saturated fat is another example of an unhealthy fat that can increase bad cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, cheese and meat products, such as steak. Saturated fat is mostly found in animal-based products. To promote healthier eating habits, the best thing you can do is minimize your intake of these “bad fats” and incorporate foods higher in “good fats” into your diet.
Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower bad cholesterol levels. Foods high in monounsaturated fat include nuts, avocados and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fat is considered the healthiest type of fat. Walnuts, sunflower seeds, and salmon are examples of food high in polyunsaturated fat. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, when you are choosing a food product, make it a habit to aim for unsaturated products and avoid saturated or trans fats.