Monday, April 23, 2012

Get the Skinny on Fats With These Healthy Eating Tips

Fats are essential to our diets (so you can't cut them out entirely). But you can make sure you're putting the right kind into your body.

Four bottles of cooking oil.
Unsaturated fats such as safflower, sunflower, olive, flax, canola, walnut and fish oils are the healthiest options.

Not all fats are created equal. New science provides a variety of recommendations about which fats are good for you and which are the most harmful to your health. To cut through the confusion, here is the latest:

Avoid All Trans Fats

This fat is derived from oil that has been mechanically altered or hydrogenated so that it is solid at room temperature. Trans fats are found in many margarines, shortenings and processed foods such as pastries, chips, crackers and cookies.

Claims of “zero trans fats” can be misleading. Look for “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable or soy oil” in the ingredients list as a clear indicator that the food product does contain trans fats.

Trans fats increase total cholesterol level and LDL (“bad cholesterol”) while lowering HDL (“good cholesterol”). And maybe even more important, trans fats contribute to a state of inflammation in the body that can negatively impact heart health and increase risk of chronic disease.

Keep Saturated Fats at a Minimum

Consumption of saturated fats (including trans fats) is recommended at levels that contribute no more than 10 percent of total daily fat intake (which itself should be no more than 30 percent of daily calories). Predominantly found in meat and dairy products, saturated fat is associated with increased LDL levels, so managing portion size is important with these foods.

When cooking with butter or ghee (clarified butter), use in small amounts. Coconut oil provides another option, as it remains stable at high temperatures and is less detrimental to LDL levels.

The Healthier Option: Unsaturated Fats

Choose sources of unsaturated fats most often (whether polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) such as safflower, sunflower, olive, flax, canola, walnut and fish oils. These healthier fats help lower LDL and increase HDL.

Olive oil is best for low- to medium-heat cooking and ideal for salad dressing. Canola, grapeseed and sesame are the best unsaturated oils for high-heat cooking. Fish oils found in salmon and cod liver oil are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and also have been found to reduce both LDL and inflammation.

Despite the hazards of overconsumption or overcooking, fats are not all bad for us. They are essential to our diet and required for the body to absorb vital nutrients. Choose wisely for a balanced approach.

— Lisa Westphal, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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