Most people understand the word “fat” as having negative connotations of being gross and unfavorable. Yes, excess fat is unattractive, but some fat is good for you; this holds true in your diet and on your body. For instance, the ideal shape of a woman is the hourglass figure, slim in the waist and curvy in the bust and hips. Think of the way you distribute the fats in your diet similarly to how you would want them distributed on your body: sparing or none of the bad fat (ex: belly fat) and moderate amounts of the good fat (ex: butt and bust).
There are three types of fat: saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fat. Saturated fats or solid fats are solid at room temperature and are mostly derived from animal foods such as milk, meat, and cheese. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and come from oils in plants. Trans fats are hard at room temperature and are created through a process called hydrogenation.
So which fats are good and which fats are bad? All together, fat should make up 20 to 35% of your daily calorie intake. Saturated fats are good in moderation (less than 16 grams per day) for a healthy heart, strong bones, immunity, satiety, and other benefits. Once too much saturated fat is consumed, it starts to raise the level of bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (LDL). High levels of LDL increase the risk of heart disease because they keep cholesterol in the bloodstream, therefore allowing it to deposit in the arteries.
You can lower your LDL levels by replacing most of your saturated fat intake with unsaturated fat. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fat is found in vegetable oils such as peanut, canola and olive oils. Polyunsaturated fat is also found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, soybean, and corn as well as the fat found in seafood. There are two subtypes of polyunsaturated fat that our body does not produce so they must be obtained through our diet. These include Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, walnuts, and fresh ground flax seed and Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in liquid vegetable oils, which are present in most chips, crackers, and sweets. A healthy Omega ratio would be between one and three Omega-6 fatty acids to every one Omega-3 fatty acid; sadly the average American’s diet consists of a 10:1 ratio. The imbalance may contribute to heart disease, cancer, depression and other diseases stemming from inflammation. Omega-6’s increase inflammation while Omega-3’s decrease inflammation. We get more Omega-6 because the meat that we eat consumes a lot of soymeal and corn (which have high Omega-6 levels) as opposed to when the animals were primarily grass-fed.
Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are made through a process of adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in order to increase the shelf life of a product. Trans fats are the worst type of fat for you, as they increase your LDL and decrease your good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Foods high in trans fats are fried foods, baked goods with crusts such as pizza or pie, crackers, and stick margarine or shortening. These foods increase chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends that trans fats only comprise one percent of your daily calories. Make an effort to replace trans fats with unsaturated fats and be conscious of what type of oil your food is cooked in.
Being aware of the health issues and benefits associated with the different types of fats can improve your health and help you obtain the ideal body with healthy distribution of fat.