The skinny on fat: Know the difference between good fats and bad fats

May 7,2013
It’s easy to be confused when it comes to fat. After years of being told to eliminate it from your diet, it’s hard to believe that there is fat that really is good for you. But it’s true. You don’t need to avoid all fats to be healthy.

According to Sara Thomas, RD, clinical nutrition manager at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, “When it comes to fat, the type of fat is what’s most important, making sure you’re eating a good balance of the right kinds of fats. Unsaturated fats can actually protect the heart, while there is evidence that shows saturated fats and trans fats increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and insulin resistance.”

Foods that are high in unsaturated fats, or the good fats, are heart healthy and include salmon, nuts, seeds and avocados.

These healthy fats are essential parts of a balanced diet and help maintain a healthy body, heart and brain. Saturated fats are mostly from animals and are found in cheeses, meat, whole milk and cream, butter and ice cream products. When using these foods, it is important to select the lower fatoption and trim off extra fat. The average daily limit is 20 grams saturated fat a day, but a 16 gram limit daily is best if you already have heart disease or diabetes.

Trans fats are most commonly found in cakes, cookies, doughnuts and French fries. Eliminating these from your diet entirely or making these foods at home with healthier ingredients is recommended for a healthy diet.

According to Thomas, swapping the types of fats you eat can have a positive impact on your health.

“There is also strong evidence that shows if you replace 10 grams of saturated fats each day with 10 grams of unsaturated fats that you will decrease your risk for disease,” said Thomas.

If you’re ready to make the switch from bad fats to good fats, Thomas suggests following these tips:

• Read labels to limit saturated fat per serving: 5 percent daily value is low, 10 percent is medium, 20 percent is high.
• Read labels for trans fats. Zero trans fat is best and 2 grams per day should be your maximum.
• Choose canola, olive or peanut oil for cooking and baking.
• Use tub or squeeze (not stick) margarine labeled trans fat free.
• Cook, drain and rinse crumbled ground beef with hot water to remove half the fat.
• Choose lean meats such as chicken or turkey. For beef and pork, look for loin or round cuts and for a solid red color. White streaks are fat.
• Trim the extra fat off meat and take the skin off chicken.
• Decrease daily meat and cheese intake to 6 ounces per day.
• Eat a handful of nuts almost every day. There is evidence that this can decrease risk for heart attack by 30 to 50 percent.
• Eat 6 to 12 ounces of fish a week. Salmon and sardines are especially good.
• Drink low fat milk — 1 percent, skim, soy or almond.
• Switch to equal mix of shredded mozzarella/cheddar cheese for 40 percent less saturated fat.
• Eat out no more than three times each week and avoid fried foods.
• Add 2 to 4 Tbsp of seeds to your diet each day. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and ground flaxseed are best.

For a complete list of tips and more information on how you can get the healthy fats your body needs,visit  the Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute Heart Health Guide.