There's a big difference between good and bad fat - here's how to pick the best heart-healthy fats
Eating the right kinds of fats feeds both the body and brain, all while keeping us full longer, so we're not as tempted to overeat or binge on sugary, crash-inducing snacks.
In fact, studies have shown no evidence of a link between how many daily calories a person gets from fat, and how likely they are to gain weight or develop heart disease. Besides, when food manufacturers lower the amount of fat in a food, they typically up the sugar and carbohydrates instead, so it's better to embrace the role of fat in your diet instead of swapping it out for more sugary, cakey sweets.
But don't assume that just because fats serve an important role in fueling the body and protecting cells that you have a free pass to slather a layer of lard on everything you eat, or consume large portions of red meat every day.
Not all fats are created equal. Some can help your heart stay healthy, while others can do real damage to the body, increasing the risk of heart disease and early death.
Here's how to choose the right fats.
We know some fats do damage to the body. One of the worst offenders is trans fat.
Trans fats come from both artificial and natural sources.
"There's clear evidence that trans fats are bad," said professor Gary Fraser of the Loma Linda School of Public Health, who's studied fats for decades.
Saturated fat isn't quite as bad as trans fat, but it's good to limit intake of saturated fats from things like red meat, coconut oil, and cheese.
One 2010 Harvard study found that people who swapped out saturated fat for polyunsaturated fat in their diets reduced their risk of developing heart disease by 19%.
There are good fats out there. Some of the best fats are monounsaturated fats that come from plant sources.
Like the name indicates, monounsaturated fats are fat molecules containing one (unsaturated) carbon bond. They come from plant sources, and include many liquid-at-room-temperature oils like olive, peanut, and sesame.
One of the reasons that monounsaturated fats like those found in nuts and seeds are so good for you is because they can actively lower your bad, LDL cholesterol. They do this while adding a dose of Vitamin E to your diet, which keeps your eyes and your immune system healthy.
Polyunsaturated fats are good for us, too. Like monounsaturated fats, foods high in polyunsaturated fats include many oils that are liquid at room temperature.
Some of the best polyunsaturated fats are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats help repair and build our cells, reduce instances of heart disease, and can also have anti-inflammatory effects. They are essential fats the body can’t produce on its own.
Omega-6 fatty acid-rich foods include sunflower seeds, pine nuts, sunflower and soybean oils, and pecans.
Omega-6 fatty acids can help control your blood sugar and may reduce your risk for developing diabetes.
Omega-3’s are likewise great fatty acids. They can reduce the risk of abnormal heartbeat, slow the rate of heart-clogging plaque growth, reduce the amount of fat in your blood, and lower blood pressure a bit.
Foods rich in omega-3’s include walnuts, flax seeds and their oils, as well as oily fish like salmon and albacore tuna.
Scientific studies suggest omega-3’s may even slow cognitive decline in older adults without dementia.
Eggs, chicken, and beef also have some omega-3’s on board.
New research suggesting that foods like nuts and seeds may be heart-healthy not simply because of their mono and polyunsaturated fat content, but also because they're infused with more heart-helping proteins than, say, a piece of red meat.
Instead, he suggests a plant-based, Mediterranean style diet, which is many dietitians' favorite suggestion too.
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