No one likes to be called fat, no one likes to eat fat. No one wants to BE fat…and not too many people understand fats.
There are several types of fat. Some fats are found in foods from animals and plants, these are called “dietary fats”. The fat your body makes is fat from taking in excess calories. Body fat is essential to your health, in an appropriate amount, because it supports some of your body’s functions.
Not all fats are equal, of course. A recent Swedish study that was published in the journal Diabetes found that consuming saturated fat actually builds more body fat and less muscle than consuming polyunsaturated fat.1
In the study, half of the test group was given muffins made with palm oil, a saturated fat, and the other part of the test group was given muffins made with sunflower oil, a polyunsaturated fat. At the end of the experiment, both groups gained the same amount of weight. But those who ate the muffins made with saturated fat gained more fat overall, specifically in their livers and abdomens. They also gained three times less muscle mass than the polyunsaturated group.
Here is a general breakdown of fat types.
Monounsaturated Fats—MUFA’s found in foods and oils improve blood cholesterol level, which decreases your risk of heart disease. Examples: olive oils, safflower oils, peanut oil, corn oil avocados, almonds.
Polyunsaturated Fats—PUFA’s found mostly in plant-based food and oils. PUFA’s improve blood cholesterol levels which decreases your risk of heart disease and decreases risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids—found in some types of fatty fish, which appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. Examples: tuna, trout, salmon, sardines, flaxseed, soybeans, walnuts, sunflower seeds.
These are the fats you do want as part of your healthy eating program.
Saturated Fats—that come mostly from animal sources such as red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products such as cheese and whole milk. Saturated fats raise the total blood cholesterol levels (LDL) which in turn increases your risk of heart disease. It also may increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Examples: processed baked goods; cookies,muffins and donuts, packaged foods, fast foods, butter.
Not all saturated fats are “bad” though! The naturally occurring saturated fatty acid found in coconut oil is lauric acid. Our bodies convert lauric acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-protozoa properties.2 In addition, coconut oil consists almost entirely of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which increase energy expenditure (fat burning) compared to other fats.3
Trans Fats—This type of fat occurs naturally in some foods but most trans fats are made from oils through a food processing method called hydrogenation. When reading food labels of foods that contain trans fats, you will recognize them listed as “partially hydrogenated oils”. These fats increase unhealthy LDL Cholesterol and lower healthy HDL Cholesterol, thus increasing your risk of heart disease. Examples: processed baked goods, packaged foods, fast foods.
First, focus on reducing foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Then emphasize food choices that include plenty of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). But a word of caution—don’t go overboard, even on healthy fats. All fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So consume MUFA-rich and PUFA-rich foods instead of other fatty foods, not in addition to them. Your total fat intake based on a 2000 calorie diet should be no more than 40 grams of fat per day, recommended by health professionals and dietitians. 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.
Use the nutritional labels on foods to aid in your choices. Be cautious of foods high in trans fats and foods with “partially hydrogenated oils” listed in the ingredients.
Making these simple changes and taking time to read the label before your purchase will help you become healthier and less “fat-fearful”.