Contrary to what most people believe, we actually need fats. It’s a fact that we can’t live without them. They’re an important part of a healthy diet. They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins and serve as a great source of energizing fuel. Cutting calories is the key to weight loss and since fats are filling they can help curb overeating. Of your total daily calorie intake, 25 to 30 percent should come from fat. The key is choosing fats that are good for you and eliminating or limiting the bad fats.
But which fats are good for you and which are bad you may ask? Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between good and bad fats:
Fats that are good for you
Monounsaturated Fats work to raise good high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol, lower bad low- density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol and protect against the buildup of plaque in your arteries. They also help prevent belly fat. You can find these ‘good for you fats’ in olive oil and olives, canola oil, almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds and avocados. Most of the fat you consume should be unsaturated.
Polyunsaturated Fats work to lower your (LDL). These fats contain essential Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids boost brain function and may help strengthen your immune system and possibly improve your mood. Omega-6 fatty acids can help to keep your skin and eyes healthy. Omega-3s are typically found in fish like salmon, mackerel and herring, as well as canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts and tofu. Omega-6s are found in corn and safflower oil, corn-fed chicken and beef and farmed fish. Be careful not to consume too much Omega-6. Large amounts can lead to inflammation which is linked to heart disease. Substitute vegetable oil for olive and eat grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish.
Fats that are bad for you
Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. You’ll find them in meat and poultry. They’re in dairy products such as cream, butter, whole and 2 percent milk and in some plant foods like palm oil. Try to limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. An easy way to reduce the amount of saturated fat you take in is to remove or cut off as much visible fat (ex. the skin on chicken) from your food as possible.
Trans fats are made from unsaturated fat that’s been chemically altered (YES, I SAID ‘CHEMICALLY ALTERED’!) to prolong the shelf life of packaged foods. Trans fats raise bad (LDL) and lower good (HDL )which increases inflammation throughout your body. In short, trans fats promote heart disease. You can find trans fats in shortening, margarine, doughnuts, french fries and processed foods (ex. crackers, cookies, chips and cakes). You don’t need to eat any trans fats and should try to avoid them at all costs.
Fact: ‘Fat-free’ labels don’t mean that you can eat all you want without consequences to your waistline. Lots of fat-free foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and calories.
Tip: Check the ingredient labels for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”. That’s just trans fats with a shifty name.
Tracy Springs is a fitness instructor at LA Fitness. Feel free to contact her at [email protected] with any questions or to set up a fitness appointment at the LA Fitness Waukegan facility