FATS: Foods to enjoy, foods to avoid

John McGran

"Not all fats are created equal. That’s according to sports nutrition instructor and author, Kerry McLeod. There’s good fat, bad fat, fat-free, low fat, full fat, and the list goes on. And while "good" fats and oils are absolutely an essential part of good health and maintaining your weight, they should be used sparingly.

McLeod says it’s important for you to know how to identify the healthy fats from the unhealthy fats. She says there are three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. (Cue haunting spaghetti western music ... wah, wah, wah...).

Facts About Fat
McLeod notes THE GOOD FATS (unsaturated) can actually help you lose weight because they help the body burn fat rather than store it. They also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) and maintain or even raise HDL (good cholesterol). It’s important to include good fats at every meal, because they help to absorb other nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K more efficiently. The recommended amount of good fats should be in the range of 20-30% of your total daily calories.

There are two types of good fats:
Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature but can start to solidify in the fridge. The main sources include olives, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, most nuts and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and in the fridge. Main sources include vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed. Another type of polyunsaturated fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, are well known to provide a wide range of health benefits. They appear to decrease the risk of heart attacks, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure levels. In addition, they may protect against some cancers. They are found mainly in fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Lesser amounts are found in flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans and rapeseed oil.

THE BAD FATS (saturated) contribute to arterial aging and heart disease, as well as strokes and many different types of cancer and diabetes, because they raise bad cholesterol and suppress the good. They are solid at room temperature and are found most often in animal products such as red meat, poultry, butter, eggs and whole milk products like ice cream, cheese and cream cheese. Other foods high in saturated fats include coconuts, coconut milk, coconut oil and palm oil.

McLeod says it is important to note that many of the saturated fat-laden products - butter, mayo, cream cheese and salad dressing - are now offered in low-fat or fat-free versions, which are far better choices. The recommended daily amount of saturated fat is an absolute maximum of 10% of your total calories.

THE UGLY FATS (trans fats) along with saturated fats are thought to raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation; this makes the fat more solid at room temperature. It helps to increase the shelf life of foods, and supposedly makes them taste better. Often, trans fats are found along with saturated fats in products such as vegetable shortening, margarine, crackers and biscuits, sweets, commercially baked goods and fried & processed foods.

"If you see the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated in the ingredients listed on food labels, you should know the food contains trans fats," McLeod notes. "That’s your cue to try to avoid eating that particular food. However, you will find that it’s quite a challenge to avoid buying processed foods that don’t have trans fats in them. Look at the foods you buy each week, even the ones that you thought were super healthy. You’ll be amazed at how many of them contain trans fats."

In The Last Diet Book Standing , she spells out the best choices by food category that DO NOT contain trans fats, for the food shopper who doesn't have the time to read nutrition label after nutrition label.

There are two interesting fat facts you should know:

- A fat-free diet can actually cause you to gain weight! How can that be? Well, the body stores what is in short supply for as long as possible. So, if you deny your body fat it’s going to hold onto what fat you already have.

- All fats have more than twice the calories (9 calories per gram) of carbs and protein (each has 4 calories per gram). So, good or bad, it is important to watch your fat intake...

Here’s a rule of thumb: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Apply this theory to most low-fat packaged foods. The low-fat version of a packaged food (biscuits, cakes, crackers, etc.) may sound like a healthier alternative of the regular version. But in actual fact, manufacturers often compensate for the lack of fat by adding more sugar, salt, and thickeners to boost flavour and texture, thereby substituting one evil for several others. So low-fat versions usually have about the same number of calories (sometimes more) as their regular versions.

If you compare the labels, you’ll find "low fat" is not the same as "low calorie". In addition, you’ll quickly realise that because most low-fat versions don’t taste as good, you tend to eat more to satisfy that craving. You’re probably better off eating the full-fat biscuit that you were craving in the first place, but in moderation!

The "too good to be true rule" does not apply to low-fat versions of animal foods (i.e. dairy and meat). These low-fat options are definitely better for you than the full-fat versions because they’re lower in fat and calories, and still taste great!

McLeod wants the savvy dieter to walk away with these nuggets of knowledge:

- Make sure to include foods high in essential fatty acids for optimum health. However, you only need a little bit of even the good stuff to get the protective benefit. Any more will make you fat.

- When using fat as a spread, choose the lower fat versions (low-fat salad dressings, mayo, butter and cream cheese).

- "Low-fat" animal foods (i.e., red meat and milk products) are great options and still taste great. However, low-fat processed goods often contain other unhealthy ingredients, lack taste and are not typically lower in calories.

- Keep consumption of saturated and trans fats to a minimum. They can make you gain weight and are linked to major diseases"


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