To Your Health: How to tell the difference between heart-healthy fat and the other stuff

For years, it’s been drilled into us: Fat is bad. Steer clear of fat.

But it’s not quite that simple.

Studies have shown that some fats are actually incredibly beneficial, and might reduce your risk of heart disease.

You also need some fat in your diet in order to get the benefits of important fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K).

salad

Avocados make a great addition atop salads, and are a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Want a little more “good fat”? Throw some almonds on your greens.

As Wahida Karmally, a professor of nutrition at Columbia University, explained to WebMD, fat is vital to a healthy diet.

It supplies your body with essential fatty acids and is necessary for keeping your skin healthy. It also promotes brain development in babies and children.

But beware: Not all fats are created equal.

Yes folks, there are good fats and there are bad fats. Let’s take a second to figure out which is which.

What’s good

Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) are the good guys. They can help lower your cholesterol, boost brain function and strengthen your immune system.

Monounsaturated fat is found in lots of healthy foods, including olive oil and olives, canola oil, almonds, cashews, peanuts and avocados.

Find polyunsaturated fats in fish, flaxseed, tofu and corn.

nuts

Nuts are high in unsaturated fat — the good stuff — and are also high in vitamins and minerals. These Marcona almonds are an excellent source of protein and iron.

What’s bad

Unfortunately, bad fat is in lots of the foods we crave. Processed foods are a big culrpit, as are meat and poultry, dairy products like cream, butter and whole milk and palm oil.

Saturated fats raise your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease, so experts recommend limiting your consumption.

Worse than saturated fat, though, is trans fat (fat that’s chemically altered to prolong shelf life). You shouldn’t be eating any of this stuff: It’s so bad the federal government is moving to ban it in foods.

Today, trans fat can still be found in lots of products you can get at your supermarket, including pastries, cookies and French fries.

The Next Step

So now you know: When you read a nutrition label, you shouldn’t only be looking at how much fat is in a product. You should also be looking at how much good fat and bad fat it has, and weighing how it fits into your balanced meal.

Experts say no more than 25 to 30 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from fat, and most of those calories should come from unsaturated fat.

For example, if you eat about 2,000 calories a day, about 500 to 700 calories can come from fat, and you should be eating no more than 140 calories a day in saturated fat.

Do you have a favorite recipe that features heart-healthy fats? Share it with us in the comments section.

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