Are you eating enough healthy fats? It might sound counterintuitive, but including the right sources of fat in your diet is essential for weight management. Your body needs dietary fats to keep your organs functioning optimally, absorb nutrients, provide energy, keep your heart healthy, and even help the body burn fat.
What are healthy fats?
We’ve been told for decades that fat is bad, but actually, certain fats are good for you — in fact, they’re essential to keep your body functioning properly. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can help raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They can boost brain function, strengthen immunity, and protect your heart against plaque build-up.
Make sure you’re including the following sources of healthy fats in your diet:
- Olives and olive oil
- Almond butter and other nut butters
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts
The importance of omega-3 fatty acids
You’ve likely heard of the the importance of getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are considered an “essential” fatty acid because the body can’t produce them, but they are required for proper growth and development. Omega-3s may also help reduce the risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis, and they help reduce inflammation in the body.
Although some types of omega-3 fats can be found in plant sources such as flax seeds and walnuts, others are found mainly in fish. It’s important to include clean, wild-caught fish in your diet, or supplement with a good source of fish oil.
Fats to avoid
There are also fats that you should be wary of and consume in moderation. An easy rule is to limit fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter and certain vegetable oils.
Stay away from trans fats, which are vegetable oils that have had hydrogen added to make them more solid. Trans fats are considered by health experts to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Trans fats both raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol, which means they can also increase your risk of heart disease.
Trans fats are often found in processed foods, fried foods, and margarine. Read ingredients lists and avoid anything that contains “partially hydrogenated oils.” Foods are allowed to be labeled as having 0 grams trans fat even if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, so always read ingredients before buying any packaged food.
As with any type of food, quality is important when it comes to fats. Avoid refined oils, which have undergone additional processing and are lower in nutrients. Read ingredients on nut butters and avoid any with lots of added sugar or other additives.
When buying fish, seek out wild-caught fish, as farmed fish may contain antibiotics, pesticides, and other additives such as food coloring. However, even wild-caught fish can contain mercury, so limit your fish intake to three times a week.
Cooking with fats
When cooking with fats and oils, pay attention to smoke point, which is the temperature at which oils start to smoke and break down. Heating oils past their smoke point can destroy beneficial nutrients and create harmful free radicals. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point between 325 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit but can be used for sauteing over low heat. When cooking at higher temperatures, choose an oil with a higher smoke point, such as avocado oil or coconut oil.
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