There is a lot of hype in the news this week about “bad fats.” This Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration took a big step toward potentially eliminating most trans fat from the food supply, saying it has made a preliminary determination that a major source of trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, is no longer “generally recognized as safe.” says CNN.com. It is important to recognize the difference between “happy fats” those in which our bodies need and rely on for brain function, and “hurtful fats” the ones that can damage our health.
Adults should get 20% to 35% of their calories from fat, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The right fats are imperative to heart and health, while trans fats and saturated fats can clearly be toxic to our bodies. Don’t get terrified of never touching a doughnut or drumstick again; get clear on what’s good and bad for our brains and bodies.
What is a hurtful fat?
Trans fat can be found in processed foods including desserts, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizza, packaged snack foods (even those that claim to be “healthy”), margarine and coffee creamer, among others. Trans fats and saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Saturated fats and trans fats are known as the “bad fats” because they increase your risk of disease and elevate cholesterol.
Appearance-wise, saturated fats and trans fats tend to be solid at room temperature (like traditional stick margarine or Crisco), while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (think of corn oil), these are healthier. To be safe, check a product’s ingredient list. Food manufacturers can say a product is trans fat free if it contains less than half a gram per serving. These can add up. If you see the words hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or shortening, it contains trans fat; you’re better off leaving it on the shelf its been living on for years.
What is a “happy fat”?
You can find polyunsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil, and fatty fish. This category encompasses omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are known as essential fatty acids because our bodies don’t make them—we have to get them from food.
To increase your unsaturated fat, replace solids, like butter, with olive and vegetable oils, and swap red meat for seafood, legumes, or unsalted nuts. (Seafood and nuts also contain saturated fat, but less than red meat.) Monounsaturated fats are good guys, they raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL. Canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good sources.
In the world of fats, omega-3s are superheroes. They taste great and fight disease while keeping your brain running smoothly. They fight inflammation, help control blood clotting, and lower blood pressure and triglycerides, and make outer appearance, such as skin and hair, glow. They have been shown to aid in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms and balance the brain.
Fatty fish like albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines are good sources. Vegetable sources include soy, walnuts, and some vegetable oils, such as olive and peanut (prior to heat, heating these oils creates a trans-fat like reaction).
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.
Fats to Embrace:
• Olive oil
• Canola oil
• Sunflower oil
• Peanut oil
• Sesame oil
• Lean poultry
• Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
• Nut Butter
• Soybean oil
• Corn oil
• Safflower oil
• Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, flaxseed
• Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
• Soy & Tofu
Fats to Fear
• High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork)
• Chicken with the skin
• Whole-fat dairy products (milk and cream)
• Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough
• Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips)
• Vegetable shortening
• Fried foods
• Candy bars
• Ice cream
• Palm and coconut oil (when heated)
- Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats. Avoid prepackaged and fast foods when you can. Baked goods, such as those yummy little donuts that have a shelf life longer than a goldfish, is a good start.
- Make small shifts: instead of creamer use milk, instead of a piece of fried chicken opt for baked.
- Eat omega-3 fats every day and take supplements.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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