Not all fats are created equal. Some are actually good for you, while others should be avoided at all costs. We're tackling the misconception that all fats are unhealthy—on the contrary, your body needs some fats to work at peak condition.
Dietary fats are broken down in three categories: trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fats. Healthy fats (or unsaturated fats) help your body absorb some vitamins as well as keep your skin and hair well-nourished. We naturally produce cholesterol, which is carried through the bloodstream by two kinds of lipoproteins (which are made of fat and protein): Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). Although your body needs both, a higher level of HDL lowers your chances of heart disease. Depending on what fats you eat, you can improve your health and stay in shape.
Fats You Should Eat
Your body relies on unsaturated fats to maintain itself. These fats are divided into two categories: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Both fats help you manage your blood cholesterol levels, so it's a good idea to eat foods that contain both types. The main difference between the two is the level of solidity; both fats stay liquid at room temperature, but monounsaturated fats start to solidify in a cooler setting.
Polyunsaturated: These fats are mostly found in plants, nuts and oils. Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, keeps skin hydrated and boosts the immune system.
Monounsaturated: Featured in a variety of plant-based oils, monounsaturated fats are full of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps with cell production.
Foods That Contain Healthy Fats
Plant-based oils and fish are top sources of unsaturated fats. Look for:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Sunflower oil
- Peanut oil
- Fish such as salmon, tuna and trout
Nuts and seeds also serve up plenty of healthy fats. Some options include:
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flax seeds
Fats You Should Avoid
Saturated fats can contribute to higher cholesterol levels, but since they occur naturally in many animal sources, it's tough to cut these fats outright. Instead of banning them completely, make sure that you are limiting your intake.
Trans fats are the ones that health professionals advise you to stay away from. These unhealthy fats offer no nutritional value. Instead, they raise your LDL level, which increases the risk of heart disease among other health problems. Some trans fats occur naturally in certain meat and milk products, but there are also artificial trans fats: these are created through a process called hydrogenation.
Foods That Contain Unhealthy Fats
Most saturated fats naturally occur in animal sources and dairy products:
- Red meat (beef, lamb, pork, etc.)
- Butter and cheese
- Lard and cream
You'll find trans fats in processed foods, specifically:
- Deep-fried products (french fries, donuts and any other foods fried in oil, which is the source of those unhealthy fats)
- Snacks like potato chips and microwave popcorn
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, active women need to consume a daily diet of 2,000 calories, of which about 20–35% should come from healthy fats. That means some fat is necessary; it's just a matter of eating the healthy kinds that will help nourish your body, not harm it.
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