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Fitting healthy fats into your diet

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Nov 5, 2019

Healthy fats; is there such a thing? Yes, and fitting them into a healthy eating plan is a smart way to improve your overall health and well-being. However, if there are “healthy” fats then there must be “unhealthy’ fats we need to limit. That is correct. But, how do you make the distinction between what is a healthy fat and what is an unhealthy fat?

Unhealthy fats

Let’s start with unhealthy fats – trans fats and saturated fat. Artificially made trans fats are used by food manufacturers to extend a food’s shelf life.  Ever wonder why you can buy a package of cookies that has a “use by” date several months down the road that stays fresh up until that date?  It’s primarily due to trans fats.  These man-made fats are manufactured by a process using hydrogen gas turning vegetable oils into solids making them more stable and thus, extending shelf life. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fats to less than 1 percent of your total calories.  If you are eating approximately 2,000 calories a day, then no more than 2 grams of trans fats should be consumed.

When we consume a lot of foods containing trans fats, it can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol, raising the risk of blood clots, and boost inflammation which increases heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The good news is since 2018, trans fats are no longer allowed in the U.S. food supply in a ruling made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2015.  Many food companies and restaurants have already eliminated this unhealthy fat from their products several years ago.

Saturated fats occur naturally in food.  These fats can also raise LDL cholesterol and increase inflammation in the body.  Foods containing saturated fats are whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, and coconut oil.  The American Heart Association recommends no more than seven percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fats.  This means if you consume approximately 2,000 calories a day, your saturated fat limit is 16 grams or 140 calories from saturated fat.

Healthy fats

There are two types of healthy fats – monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.  These healthy fats have been found to lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol when substituted for saturated fats.  These also help us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins of A, D, E, and K along with building cell membranes, moving muscles, and providing a major source of energy.

Polyunsaturated fats come in two forms: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the development of irregular heartbeats, a main cause of sudden cardiac death and they can reduce the tendency for clots to form in the arteries blocking blood flow.

Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados and most nuts along with olive, peanut, and canola oils.  The omega-3 fatty acids in polyunsaturated fats are found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, and flaxseeds while omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, soybean, and safflower oils and walnuts.

On average, most Americans consume omega-6 fats about 10 times more than omega-3 fats. While a low intake of omega-e fats is not beneficial for cardiovascular health, the best approach is to add in foods rich in omega-3 fats to create a better balance between the two types of fats.

Eat healthy fats within reason

Even though the healthy fats are necessary and good for us, like all fats, each gram of fat contains nine calories making fat a more concentrated source of calories than either carbohydrates or protein.  To avoid weight gain, it is recommended that 30-35 percent of our daily calories should come from fat – only 7-10 percent of them from saturated fats and the rest from unsaturated fats.

Easy ideas adding in more healthy fats to your diet:

  • Add nuts to yogurt, oatmeal, or salads
  • Use healthy oils such as olive oil to roast vegetables
  • Spread peanut or almond butter on toast
  • Dip fruit or veggies into peanut or almond butter
  • Add avocado slices to a salad or sandwich or use as a spread on a sandwich. Blend sliced avocado into a smoothie.
  • Top salads with salmon or tuna
  • Seeds are an excellent source of healthy fats. Sprinkle pumpkin, flaxseed, chia, sesame or sunflower seeds onto salads or add to yogurt.
  • Dark chocolate is a good source of healthy fat along with a healthy dose of antioxidants. Limit to one ounce a day (about one square) and choose dark chocolate that has at least 70% or higher cacao content.
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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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