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Separating "Fat" from Fiction

The word "fat" often conjures negative thoughts of unhealthy foods. However, fats are actually essential in our daily lives. Fat helps give our bodies energy, protects your organs, supports cell growth, keeps cholesterol and blood pressure under control, and helps us absorb vital nutrients.

When you focus too much on cutting out all fat, you can actually deprive your body of what it needs most. However, consuming too much fat, especially trans fat and saturated fat can lead to obesity and other medical conditions.

Saturated fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. High LDL cholesterol puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and other major health problems. Foods with a lot of saturated fats are animal products, such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, and fatty meats. Some vegetable oils, such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil, also contain saturated fats. Not all, but many of these fats are solid at room temperature.

Eating unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats can help lower your LDL cholesterol. Nutrition experts agree that one of the most versatile and healthy oils is olive oil, as long as it’s extra virgin, which means it is not refined. Extra virgin olive oil contains a large number of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids; many studies have linked it to better heart health. However, olive oil has a relatively lower smoke point compared to other oils, so it’s best for low and medium-heat cooking. If you are cooking at higher temperatures, avocado oil is an excellent choice. Just like extra virgin olive oil, it is unrefined, but it has a higher smoking point, which means it can be used to cook at higher heat and is great for stir-fried meals. Most vegetable oils are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm, and sunflower oils. They are usually refined and processed, resulting in a lack of flavor and nutrients.

Trans fatty acids are unhealthy fats that form when vegetable oil goes through a process called hydrogenation. This leads the fat to harden and become solid at room temperature. Hydrogenated fats, or "trans fats," are often used to keep some foods fresh for a long time. Trans fats are also used for cooking in some restaurants. They can raise LDL cholesterol levels in your blood. They can also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Here are some examples of foods with what are considered healthy fats. Please note all fats are usually high in calories, so eat them sparingly.

1. Go Nuts

When it comes to nuts, there are endless possibilities Nuts provide healthy fats, but they are also high in calories so no more than a handful should do it. Try to avoid ones that are high in salt and oils. Some great examples are almonds and cashews.

2. Bring on the Fish

Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that can improve your heart health. Just a couple of 4-ounce servings each week can lower your chances of heart disease by 36%. Omega-3s might make you less likely to have conditions like stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, too. Good sources of these healthy acids include salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, and trout.

3. The Good Oils

Extra virgin olive oil can be beneficial to our blood cholesterol levels. It is also a good source of vitamin E. One study, which included data from over 840,000 subjects, found that those who ate the most olive oil were 9% less likely to have heart issues and 11% less likely to die early compared to those who ate the least olive oil.

4. Avocados

Fats and fibers can help us feel fuller. Avocados provide a unique combination of these nutrients. A 2019 study in Nutrients suggests that this fruit’s load of monounsaturated fats and fiber can suppress hunger in adults who are overweight and obese. The research also indicates that avocados can reduce post-meal insulin demand.

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