Fats are beneficial to our health in many ways. Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build nerve tissue, including the brain and nerves, and hormones. Adequate fat intake is essential to growth and development. Young kids, especially, need a certain amount of fat in their diets to help the brain and nervous system develop correctly.
Healthy or 'Good' Fats
Unsaturated fats can help remove LDL cholesterol from arteries and promote a healthier heart. Additionally, fat supplies fuel for the body, helps with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, are the building blocks of hormones, and are important regarding feeling satiated.
Healthy fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which mostly come from plants and seafood. Choose foods full of healthy monounsaturated fat, like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial in several ways, most notably in their role in of reducing inflammation and brain health. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, mackerel, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.
Of course, too much of a good thing is not always good. Fat is a great source of energy but has twice the number of calories compared with the same amount of carbohydrates or protein. If fats eaten aren't burned as energy or used as building blocks, they're stored by the body as fat. This is the body's way of conserving energy for times when food may be scarce.
Misconception Regarding Weight and Dietary Fats
A common misconception regarding weight and dietary fats is that eating fat may make you fat. Consuming too many calories for one’s needs, regardless of where those calories come from, will cause weight gain and the production of more fat cells.
Dietary fat has long been a villain of the dietary world. Of course, it’s not that simple, because nothing in the field of dietary science is right or wrong. But there has long been a misconception that fats in the diet cause obesity and heart disease, and dietary cholesterol is a contributor to heart disease. New research proves that fat, albeit healthy fat, is an essential and critical component of a healthy diet.
Unhealthy or 'Bad' Fats
Unhealthy fats are harmful to heart health, most notably saturated and trans fats. Sources of saturated fats include high-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb and pork), chicken with the skin, whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream), butter, cheese, ice cream, palm and coconut oil and lard. Trans fats also contribute significantly to heart disease; however, we find them less in packaged items today than we did 10 to 20 years ago thanks to better understanding of fats. Still, sources of trans fat include commercially baked goods (pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes and pizza dough), packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn and chips), stick margarine, vegetable shortening, fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets and breaded fish) and candy bars.
Look At Diet As A Whole
While we can look at foods and classify them as “good” or “bad” for our hearts, it is important to understand that overall dietary pattern is more important. We must look at diet as a whole, rather than just one food or nutrient. And we should encourage more wholesome, less altered foods within a certain calorie range to help with overall health and weight management.
Bottom line: it’s really not an “all or nothing” approach to healthy eating!