Dietary Fat: The Good and the Bad

March 24, 2011

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olive oilAt one time, the weight loss world focused on cutting fat and all fat was considered “bad” fat. In time we learned that fat itself isn’t bad, but too much of it can be. So what’s the real scoop on dietary fat and weight loss?

First, it’s important to know that not all fat is created equal. Maybe you’ve heard of “good” fat and “bad” fat, and there really are such things. Understanding the difference can help you make sure the fat you do eat is the “right kind” of fat and in the right amounts.

It’s also important to remember that your body needs some fat as it is essential in many bodily functions such as hormone production, so cutting fat intake completely is not good. However, it’s unlikely that anyone in American is suffering from a lack of fat intake. Chances are most people are already eating enough or, more likely, too much and of the wrong types.

In a nutshell, good fats are unsaturated fats – also sometimes called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Research indicates that these fats help lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL), leading to a reduced risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Some sources of these “good fats” include olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish like salmon, avocados, nuts, and beans.

“Bad” fats, on the other hand, are saturated fats and trans fats. These fats act in the body in exactly the opposite way as “good” fats. Research suggests they increase “bad” cholesterol and reduce “good” cholesterol in the blood. Eating too much of this type of fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other serious illnesses.

Sources of saturated fats include butter, red meat, cheese, whole fat dairy products, sour cream, ice cream, shortening, stick margarine, coconut milk, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil. Many processed foods are high in saturated fats including fried foods, non-dairy whipped topping, cakes, cookies, and other prepackaged, prepared, and fast food. Restaurants also tend to use a lot of saturated fats to add flavor to foods, drenching a rib eye steak (or even boneless chicken breast!) in butter before grilling it, for example.

So how much fat should you eat? According to The American Heart Association guidelines, fat calories should not account for more than 25-35 percent of your daily calorie intake. Of that, no more than 7 percent should come from saturated fat, and 1 percent or less from trans fat. The majority, 17 to 27 percent, should come from unsaturated fat sources.

Chances are, like most Americans, you’re currently eating too much of the “bad” fat and not enough “good” fat. Awareness and some simple changes can flip flop the two in a healthier direction.

So, for example, if you usually cook with butter or vegetable oil, switch to an olive oil or canola oil spray instead. Dip bread in olive oil rather than use butter. Have avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo. Eat a handful of nuts as a snack instead of potato chips.

Then, cut overall fat intake with some creative cooking tips. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Use fresh or dried herbs to add flavor to food instead of fat.
  • Mist foods with olive or canola oil spray rather than pour it from a bottle.
  • Choose extra lean cuts of meat and trim all visible fat off meat before cooking.
  • Grill, broil, bake, braise, steam, poach, slow-cook, or microwave foods instead of frying.
  • Sauté with non-stick spray or broth instead of oil.
  • Drain fat well from cooked meat.
  • Substitute beans or soy for meat.
  • Choose vegetarian, turkey, or chicken sausage over beef or pork.
  • Cook with egg whites rather than whole eggs.
  • Replace whole-fat dairy products with low-fat or fat-free versions.

And be sure to keep in mind that “good” and “bad” fats all contain the same number of calories – 120 per tablespoon. So even though some fats are good for you, they should still be eaten sparingly and their calories factored into your overall daily tally.

There is it – the skinny on fat!

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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Comments (3)

[…] whole grain; beans and other legumes are often served in place of meat; fat primarily comes from olive oil and other monounsaturated sources; and a glass of red wine typically accompanies the meal. Fresh […]

[…] the advice to cut back on fat did not solve the nation’s weight struggles. In fact, obesity rates still continued to climb even […]

[…] to a minimum, in moderation, unsaturated fats can do the body a lot of good. Here’s the catch: Not all oils are created equal. A number of factors determine the best oil for your […]

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