Americans do tend to get too much fat in their diets, the American Heart Association agrees, but points out that some fats are not only healthy, they are necessary.
When we decide to diet, often the first thing to go is fat. And, to some extent, that is a good move. However, the American Heart Association reminds us as Go Red for Women month draws to a close, some fats are not only okay for our diets, they are necessary and healthy. The challenge is learning which fats are “good” fats, and how we can get them into our diets.
Fats have a variety of jobs in the human body, the AHA indicates. They help supply energy and support cell growth; they help your body absorb some nutrients; they help produce some hormones the body needs; they even help to protect your internal organs and help to keep your body warm! The key, however, the AHA indicates on its website, is to know which fats to consume and how much:
Your body definitely needs fat – but not as much fat as most people eat.
Four Types of Fats
The different fats in our foods—saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats—differ in chemical structure and physical properties. Saturated and trans fats are generally considered “bad” fats (although coconut oil, a saturated fat, is considered a "good" fat by many nowadays) . These fats are usually the ones that are solid at room temperature, like, for example, butter or lard. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, are often considered “good” fats, and are liquid at room temperature, like vegetable or olive oil. Saturated and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in your blood; LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to lower LDL cholesterol.
How Many Calories in Fat?
One issue with fats and diet is the amount of calories. One gram of fat, regardless of type, has nine calories; carbohydrates and proteins contain only four calories per gram. The high amount of calories can lead to weight problems if fat is overconsumed, the AHA indicates, as well as other problems:
Because fats are so energy-dense, consuming high levels of fat – regardless of the type – can lead to taking in too many calories. That can lead to weight gain or being overweight. Consuming high levels of saturated or trans fats can also lead to heart disease and stroke. Health experts generally recommend replacing saturated fats and trans fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats – while still limiting the total amount of fat you consume.
Understanding the Whole Picture
Still, it is important to understand labels. For example, just because a food is “trans fat-free” does not mean it does not have a lot of saturated fat. And, it is also important, the AHA warns, to look at the nutrient content of a food overall, not just fats. Baked goods, for example, may have higher sugar levels to compensate for a lower amount of fat in the product. And, although it is not necessary to cut out every potentially nutrient-lacking treat from your diet, a balanced diet, including healthy fats, is what we should be striving for, the AHA suggests:
Eating foods with a moderate amount of fat is definitely part of a healthy diet. Just remember to balance the amount of calories you eat with the amount of calories you burn. Aim to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole-grain/high-fiber foods, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, and fish (at least twice a week). Doing so means that your diet will be low in both saturated fats and trans fats.
For more information about eating a healthy diet, visit the American Heart Association website.
Image: American Heart Association
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