For decades now many consumers have been operating with the understanding that fats are bad and are to be avoided. Those of us with high cholesterol, various heart conditions, or even just a family history of coronary artery disease are told to go on a “low fat” diet, avoiding all forms of fat if possible. The first thing that we do if we desire to lose weight is to start avoiding fat in our diets.
Grocery stores shelves are crowded with products that claim “no-fat” or “low-fat” on their labels. In truth, however, there are good fats and there are bad fats. There is no question that we have entirely too many fats (of the bad variety) in our diets. Avoiding fats isn’t the wise health choice, nutritionist say; changing the balance of the type of fats is.
The different kinds of oils and fats include:
- Monounsaturated: These “good” fats are found mainly in plant sources, like nuts, avocados and olive, peanut and canola oils. They are liquid at room temperature.
- Polyunsaturated: These fats, which include the healthy omega-3 fatty acids, are also found in plant oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, flaxseed and canola oils, as well as in seafood. Polyunsaturated fats are either liquid or soft at room temperature. Essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid are also in the polyunsaturated group. These fats, which we need to get from the foods we eat, are necessary for the creation of cell walls and hormones in the body.
- Saturated: These fats are found mostly in animal products. Red meat, poultry, cheese, butter and other dairy products are the main sources. Some plant products like palm, coconut and palm kernel oil are also saturated. These fats are solid at room temperature.
- Trans: This type of fat is formed when unsaturated vegetable oils are hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) to form solid, more stable fats. Hydrogen atoms are actually added to the oils. Trans-fats include margarine and shortening and are found in everything from crackers, cookies, doughnuts, frozen pie crusts, deep-fried foods, and foods with chocolate coatings.