If you’re wondering about fat and its place in your diet, you’re not alone. Each year the International Food Information Council Foundation conducts a nationwide survey of Americans of all ages and backgrounds. When the results were released earlier this year, fat was found to be one of the biggest topics of nutritional confusion. Research around the importance of fats in the diet continues to grow and results repeatedly underscore the importance of a healthy meal plan that focuses on moderation vs. a restrictive diet. When it comes to healthy fats, here’s what you need to know.
What is a Healthy Fat?
There are several types of fat in our foods. While all are calorically dense, some are considered healthy and some are not. Most foods contain a combination of various fats. Healthy fats to focus on include:
These fats are found in foods like sunflower oil, soybean oil and some nuts and seeds, and include the essential omega fatty acids. Although these fall into the “healthy fats” category, they should still be limited in the diet, especially when weight loss is the goal of your healthy eating plan, due to the high number of calories these fats represent. The average person should aim to cap total daily fat consumption to 20 to 35 percent of daily calories.
These fats are found in foods like olive oil, avocados and nuts. As with polyunsaturated fats, too much of a good thing can add excessive calories and slow down your progress in reaching health goals.
Omega fatty acids
These polyunsaturated fats, also known as essential fatty acids, are a must from your diet as they cannot be produced by the body like other fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds like walnuts and flax seed, and even some grass-fed meats. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like safflower oil and grape seed oil. While many of us get too many omega-6 fatty acids, we often fall short on our omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to healthier heart and brain function. Research indicates that intake of these two essential fatty acids should be balanced for optimal health.
Unhealthy fats should be limited or avoided in a healthy eating plan. These fats include both saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are primarily found in animal-based products such as butter, meats and cheeses. Trans fats are often found in commercially baked goods, margarine and some fast foods.
The Benefits of Healthy Fats
If your focus is on specifically cutting calories from your meal plan to hit your goals faster, you may be considering slashing fat from your diet. That is probably the last thing you want to do. Not only have the benefits of a low-fat diet come into question in some recent research, the importance of healthy fats in your diet can’t be stressed enough. These beneficial fats have been shown to:
As low-fat diets failed to curb rising obesity rates, many experts went in search of explanations and found that we are simply built to enjoy fat in our food. Including a small amount of healthy fat in each meal, along with lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, can control cravings longer between meals.
Reduce the risk of diabetes.
Research indicates that replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats in the diet can positively affect insulin sensitivity reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids in particular have been shown to help fight inflammation, which may help reduce one’s risk of injury and improve heart health.
Reduce belly fat.
Not only do many of us like the look of less belly fat, a slimmer middle may mean better health. According to a study from the American Diabetes Association, increased consumption of monounsaturated fats (in place of saturated and trans fats) was linked to less central fat distribution and decreased insulin resistance.
As the body of research around fats, both saturated fat and unsaturated fat, continues to grow, we find that fat may not be such a bad macronutrient after all. Go ahead and add a handful of nuts, a dash of olive oil or a couple slices of avocado to your meal today, as the importance of healthy fats in your daily meal plan can’t be denied.