The Truth About Good Fats and Bad Fats

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Fat is often pegged the scapegoat for cholesterol problems and cardiovascular disease and has gained the reputation as a dieter’s taboo – an outright no-man’s-land for those wanting to slim down.

Assumptions about fat take advantage of the obvious culprits – trans fats and saturated fats – and use them as poster children for all fats, when they only represent half the story. The truth is, shunning fat may work against rather than for you. To integrate fat into your diet without tipping the scale requires being able to determine more than just how much fat to eat but also the quality of it.

A diet deficient in fat would not only contribute to an unhealthy body but also one that doesn’t know how to properly lose unwanted pounds. Fat has many critical functions: it provides energy, cushions organs, and helps in the assimilation of nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Indeed, “bad” fats can raise cholesterol levels and put you at risk of certain diseases, but “good” fats can do the exact opposite.

The Good, the Bad, and the Compromise

Bad fats include saturated fats and trans fats. You can recognize them as being solid at room temperature, like a stick of margarine, or hydrogenated oils common in packaged snacks, such as chips. Saturated fats include meats, chicken, full-fat milk, butter, and cheese, while trans fats encompass many commercially baked items, packaged junk food, margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods and candy bars. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories and trans fats to less than 1 percent.

To avoid the negative effects of saturated and trans fats, switch to unsaturated fats–polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and found in many plant-based foods. These include nuts, seeds, avocados, plant-based oils, olives, and fish (not a plant food).

But this is not where the story ends. Despite the bad rap of saturated fats, they do have their place in the human diet, just a limited space. Studies have shown that saturated fat can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen bones, promote liver and lung health, boost the immune system, improve proper nerve signaling, and contribute to a healthy brain. For instance, coconut oil is a saturated fat but it can be part of a healthy diet, because it increases HDL (good) cholesterol due to its lauric acid content and bears a host of health benefits.

And while oils in their raw state have benefits, cooking some above a certain temperature can bio-chemically change its composition, making the oil devoid of nutrition, unfit for human consumption and ultimately acidic and toxic in the body. Because coconut oil has a high burn temperature, it is an oil safe to cook with at higher temperatures. Even a dab of butter, when cooked, is less toxic and easier to digest than other heated oils.

At the end of the day, your body requires fat to function properly. Your job is to eliminate trans fats, reduce saturated fats, and up the ante on unsaturated fats. However, keep in mind that there is no need for extreme behavior – saturated fat and even cholesterol have a place in the human diet – and striking the right balance is key to keeping healthy and slim.

Photo Credit: steffenz

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