Over the years, fats have gotten a bad reputation. Today, we know that some types of fat (in the right amount) are important for good health. Ready to make peace with healthy fats? Here’s what you need to know.
The benefits of healthy fats
Just like protein and carbs, fat is a nutrient that helps your body:
- Have energy (through calories)
- Absorb important vitamins like A, D, E and K
- Grow and develop
But like other good things, too much of it can be bad for your health. And not all fats are created equal.
Let’s go from bad to best:
- Trans fat = unhealthy fat because it can raise your “bad” cholesterol, which can increase your risk for heart disease. Fried fast foods (donuts and fries), packaged baked goods and snacks (crackers and cookies), and partially hydrogenated margarines contain it. While the trans fat content of many of these foods has been reduced, check food labels to ensure there is little or no trans fat.
- Saturated fats = unhealthy fat because it too can raise “bad” cholesterol. This fat is found in fatty animal meat (like beef, chicken, lamb, veal and pork), coconut and palm oils, full-fat dairy products, lard, shortening and highly processed foods (hot dogs, deli meats, cookies and chips for example).
- Unsaturated fats = the good, healthy fat. It can help improve your cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and lower triglycerides (a fat found in your blood that may lead to heart disease). There are two main types: Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados; olive, canola and peanut oil; and some nuts like almonds, pistachios, cashews and pecans. Polyunsaturated fats (like omega-3 and omega-6) are found in cold-water fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and herring; canola, soybean and flaxseed oil; omega-3 eggs; nuts and seeds like flaxseed, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds and peanuts.
Eat well with healthy fats
So is there an easy way to take advantage of healthy fats? You bet.
- Get familiar with reading Nutrition Labels on foods.
- Check the daily value (DV) of foods to choose lower fat items. Good rule of thumb: 5% of DV means it has a little of that nutrient; 15% of DV means it has a lot.
- Load up on vegetables, fruit and whole grain goods with no added fat. Limit the pre-packaged stuff.
- Buy enough fish for two servings a week — salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout.
- Opt for leaner cuts of meat.
- Choose a non-hydrogenated margarine that has a maximum of 2 grams of saturated and trans fats combined per serving.
- Buy cheese that contains less than 20% milk fat (MF); 2% MF for milk, yogurt and cottage cheese.
- Canada’s Food Guide recommends you include 30-45 mL (2 to 3 tablespoons) of unsaturated fats a day for cooking, salad dressings, and preparing foods. Good choices of unsaturated vegetable oils include canola, corn, flaxseed, olive, peanut, soybean and sunflower.
- Just a teaspoon is enough to stir-fry or sauté foods.
- Make sure cooking oil is hot before adding food — less absorption that way.
- Use a spray bottle to spritz your oil on pans.
- Skip the butter and go with fat-free flavour-boosters — herbs, spices, garlic, lemon, vinegars and wines.
- Baking? Substitute soft margarine for hard margarine, and butter for lard.
- For meats and poultry, trim the fat and remove the skin.
Getting enough — but not too much
Just because unsaturated fats are healthy, loading up on them also means loading up on calories — and possibly weight gain. Gain too much and you actually increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
So how much should you get? If you’re a stickler for numbers, Health Canada recommends that adults (aged 19+) get 20% to 35% of total daily calories from fat. If you’re not, they advise to eat a small amount of unsaturated fats daily — nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and vegetable oils all make their list.
Looking for recipes? Check out our recipes for delicious and nutritious meals and snacks.