In terms of diet, not all fats are the same. Fat generally gets a bad rap, but there are actually healthy fats that are crucial to a well-balanced diet. Unhealthy fats on the other hand, have no place at the table. Understanding the difference between fats can help you make healthful choices that keep your digestive system running smoothly and help you to maintain a healthy body weight.
Fats are a crucial part of your diet. Some vitamins must be absorbed by fat so that your body processes them and fats play other important roles in bodily function as well. Your body makes its own fat from the excess calories that you consume. Fat that you consume from plant- and animal-based foods that you eat are know as dietary fats. Dietary fats fall into two categories and then have their own subcategories. Check out how to tell the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
What Are Healthy Fats?
Healthy fats are largely unsaturated and include monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fatty acids are thought to be beneficial in improving cholesterol levels, which decrease the risk of heart disease. They may also benefit insulin levels and help to regulate blood sugar, which is especially helpful for Type 2 diabetes. Polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found in plant-based foods and oils, and may help improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Omega-3 fatty acid is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. It is thought to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and lowering the risk of heart disease. Fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Plants also contain omega-3 fatty acids and can be found in ground flaxseed, nuts and seeds, like walnuts, butternuts and sunflower seeds, as well as in certain oils including canola, flaxseed and soybean.
What Are Unhealthy Fats?
Saturated fat and trans fat are unhealthy dietary fats. Saturated fat is found in animal-based foods, such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fats are thought to increase bad cholesterol levels and may also contribute to Type 2 diabetes. Trans fats do occur naturally in some foods in low amounts. They are more often found in processed foods through a production method known as partial hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated trans fats increase bad cholesterol levels and increase good ones, increasing the risk of heart disease.
As a general guideline, saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature and may also be referred to as solid fats. Beef fat, pork fat, butter, shortening and margarine are all examples of trans fats. Fats should be a minimal part of any diet, healthy or not. It is possible to find omega-3 in supplement form if you don’t eat fish. Keep in mind that non-fat foods often have added sugars to make up for the lost flavor, so it is better to eat full fat or low-fat versions in smaller quantities.