The types of fat that are considered healthy are the unsaturated, mono unsaturated and poly unsaturated fats. Mono unsaturated fats are found in things like olives, some nuts, avocado and canola oil. Poly unsaturated fats are often talked about for their health benefits. You might know them as omega 3 and omega 6 oils. The omega 3 oils that get the most press are the long chained variety DHA and EPA. These are found in fish, especially oily fish and also in lean red meat. The short chained variety can be found in nuts, seeds and vegetables. These short chained omega 3’s can be converted to the longer chained omega 3’s in your body. These unsaturated fats help to reduce the risk of heart disease, and lower cholesterol among other health benefits. The Mediterranean diet is relatively high in mono unsaturated oil, as well as omega 3 and omega 6 oils. These fats are all liquid at room temperature.
The less healthy fats are saturated fats and trans fats. There are certain fad diets that suggest that saturated fats have no negative health impacts, but there is very little evidence to support this. There is however a huge amount of research showing the benefits of a diet lower in saturated fats. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that trans fats are definitely not good for you and have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in certain foods such as dairy and meat products but are also produced in some types of food processing such as the hydrogenation of polyunsaturated oils to produce margarines. Look for margarines that are free of, or low in trans fats. Trans fats are also found in many packaged foods, another reason to stay away from packaged and highly processed foods.
Cholesterol is another type of fat which has been misunderstood over the years. There was a time when we thought that dietary cholesterol was the main cause of arthrosclerosis (a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of arteries), we now know that saturated fat and trans fat are the major contributor to this condition.
How can you tell if it’s a good fat or a bad fat? Generally, the fats that are considered healthy fats are liquid at room temperature and bad fats are solid at room temperature. That’s ok if you are looking at the fats on their own, but it’s not always that easy to tell when the fat is contained in a food. For instance, avocado and nuts contain healthy fats but you can’t tell if they are liquid or not because they are contained within the food. In general, if the fat is from a plant based food it will be unsaturated, but this isn’t always the case. Coconut oil for instance is one of the most highly saturated fat available. If you limit the amount of packaged and processed foods and other high fat foods like pastries, cakes, deep fried foods and red meats you will be fine. I think we all know that anyway, the hard part is actually doing it. If you can the benefits are well worth the sacrifice.
You don’t have to get to carried away with reading nutritional tables on packaged foods, just minimise those types of products and try to stick as closely to the Australian Dietary Guidelines as you can. In a few weeks I will summarise this into a simple set of steps, that will make it easy for you to keep on track!
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