September: Fats—the good and the bad
by Sophia Speroff, MPH, RD
Our body needs us to consume a certain amount of fat each day to work properly. Any extra fat that we eat is stored in fat tissue and causes us to gain weight. Choosing what types of fat we consume can be healthy or unhealthy for our heart. Limit the amount of fat you eat, but don’t try to cut it out completely.
Focus on reducing foods high in saturated fat and trans-fat. These are the two types of unhealthy fats we most want to avoid. Fats that we should consume more of are omega-3s, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat. Your goal should be to choose more of the healthier fats, eat fewer unhealthy fats, and stay within your fat gram goal.
- Omega 3s are an especially heart healthy fat and can help with lowering high triglyceride values in your blood. These are found in salmon, albacore tuna, rainbow trout, herring, tofu, soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil.
- Mono and polyunsaturated fats are considered heart healthy and can help with improving cholesterol. Sources include avocado; almonds; pecans; peanuts; pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds; olive oil and olives; vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean); and peanut butter.
Fats to Avoid
- Saturated fats, which are mainly found in foods that come from animals (meat and dairy), but can also be found in fried foods and some pre-packaged foods. Saturated fats are unhealthy because they increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in your body and increase your risk for heart disease. Many saturated fats are “solid” fats that you can see, such as the fat in meat. Other sources include high-fat cheeses, high-fat cuts of meat, whole-fat milk, butter, ice cream, Pam, and coconut oils.
- Trans-fats are simply liquid oils turned into solid fats during food processing. A small amount of trans fat occurs naturally in some meat and dairy products, but those found in processed foods tend to be the most harmful to your health. Trans fats serve up a double whammy to your cholesterol, by increasing LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (“healthy” cholesterol). To avoid trans-fat, look on nutrition labels for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated” oils or shortening. In addition, look for trans-fat in the nutritional information in products, such as commercially baked desserts, crackers, and fried foods.
- Sauté with olive oil or canola oil instead of butter.
- When reheating soups or stews, skim the solid fats from the top before reheating.
- Sprinkle slivered nuts or sunflower seeds on salads, instead of using bacon.
- Snack on a small handful of nuts rather than potato chips or processed crackers.
- Try peanut butter or other nut butters (with no trans-fat) on celery, bananas, or low-fat crackers
- Add avocado instead of cheese to your sandwich.
- Fats—Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans Fat. Lifestyle Coach Facilitation Guide: Post-Core (cdc.gov)
- Saturated vs. Unsaturated fats: Which is more healthful? (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Healthy Eating As You Age: Know Your Food Groups. National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
This column is sponsored by the Stockbridge Area Wellness Coalition. Sophia Speroff is a Registered Dietitian (RD) of 10 years with her master’s in public health, currently working at St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Chelsea as a community RD. She has an athletic and competitive side, staying active training for triathlons and half marathons. In her free time, Sophia likes to hike, folk dance and garden.