For a long time, when you heard the word, "fat", in a conversation about nutrition, it was usually used in a negative fashion. But not all fat is bad for you, depending on the variety you consume. There are two types of fats when it comes to food and nutrition: saturated and unsaturated. Certain foods can contain one or both types, which can affect your overall health in vastly different ways. Recently, research illuminated just how important it is to you heart health when it comes to which fats make up the bulk of your diet.
Saturated Fat Basics
Saturated fats possess no double-bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules, hence their name. Foods containing saturated fats usually remain solid at room temperature. These are the bad fats—the heavy fats that are found in foods known for their negative effects on your health. Some popular foods containing saturated fatty acids include meats, cheeses, butter, fried foods, heavy creams and oils, baked goods, and pastries.
The Healthy Replacements
Unsaturated fats, on the other-hand, can actually be beneficial to your daily diet. Two different types—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated—can be found in foods and some oils. A recent study showed how you can support a healthy heart by swapping out saturated fats for both types of unsaturated fat.
A Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of 127,000 cohort participants showed that replacing 5% of energy intake coming from saturated fats with an equivalent intake from polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated with a 25% decrease in heart health concerns. Replacing the equivalent intake with monounsaturated fats was associated with a 15% decrease for the same cardiovascular concerns.
"This shows that the replacement really matters. It's not enough to remove something from your plate and think you're doing yourself a favor," said co-lead author, Dr. Adela Hruby, of the Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, Boston.
What Foods and Supplements to Look For
Along with knowing the benefits that certain fats can provide, it is vital to know where to find these fats. Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Flax oil, palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil can all be used for cooking instead of butter, shortening, and stick margarine.
When it comes to getting an extra heart health boost, there is also fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to also lower the risk of heart concerns, as well as support healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring contain high amounts of nutritious omega-3 fatty acids.
The Role of Fats and Healthy Food Choices
There was a time where we thought any kind of fat was bad. Now with an increased understanding of the different fats and the roles they play in your health and nutrition, we know that some fats can actually be beneficial. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to learn that the recipe to avoiding saturated fats includes choosing healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and poultry. If you choose to eat meat, limit your red meat consumption, choosing fish and nuts instead to help increase your unsaturated fat intake.
In the end, not all fats should be thought of negatively. Making the healthy choice sometimes means choosing the right fats and making them work for you when it comes to achieving a healthier overall lifestyle.