In the late 1980s and early 90s, fat got a bad rep. Low-fat diets were touted as the key to optimal health, with any source of dietary fat seen as something to be strictly avoided. Today, thanks to stronger research and a better understanding of the roles dietary fat plays in our health, we now know that fats are not the evil source of ill-health that popular media once believed, but a key part to overall health.
Dietary fat plays some important roles in our health. Fat provides energy in the form of calories, and aids in the absorption of important nutrients that are involved in brain and nerve function. Vitamins A, D, and E are all fat-soluble, meaning we need fat from the diet in order to absorb them. Fats also provide essential fatty acids, which are nutrients we have to get from food because our body is unable to build them itself. Fatty acids build up cell membranes and are involved in cell signaling.
While we now understand that fat is an important part of the diet, it is worth noting that some sources of fat are better than others. Some fats provide health benefits, while others can contribute to disease when eaten in excess. Knowing the difference between good and bad fats and where to find them can help you make more educated nutrition decisions.
Good fats and where to find them
Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are dubbed “heart healthy” because they help lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol and may be protective against heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats are fats that are usually liquid at room temperature. There are two heart-healthy types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are necessary in the body, but the body does not produce them by itself. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in:
- Chia seeds
Omega-6 fatty acids aid in brain function, skin and hair growth, bone health, metabolism, and reproductive health. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in:
- Soybeans and soy-based nut butter
- Sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds
- Vegetable oils like corn, safflower, sesame, and sunflower
- Soft margarine in liquid or tub form
Monounsaturated fats, like polyunsaturated fats, are essential to the body and play a role in preventing heart disease and improving blood cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats are found in the following foods:
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, peanuts, and pecans
- Peanut and almond butter
- Olive and peanut oils
These fats, when eaten in moderation, are part of a healthy diet. Eating a variety of foods can help ensure you are getting plenty of beneficial fats. Choosing a prepared meal delivery service that uses healthy fats in its meals is one step to living a healthier lifestyle. For example, Pure Plates uses only healthy sources of fat, such as salmon and olive oil, in our meals. Our snack bars are made with nuts, and we use lean meats to help cut down on saturated fats.
Saturated and trans fats
You’ve probably heard of saturated and trans fats before and how they’re best to be avoided. This is because saturated and trans fat raise LDL cholesterol in the blood and have repeatedly been linked to heart disease and stroke.
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, and often come from animal products. The American Heart Association recommends adults consume no more than 13 grams of saturated fats per day but most Americans eat twice this amount every day! The most common sources of saturated fats in our diet are:
- Fatty cuts of beef
- Poultry with the skin
- Beef fat (tallow)
- Dairy made with 2% or whole milk
Now here is where things get a little tricky - some oils are actually high in saturated fats! Palm and palm kernel oil, as well as coconut oil are high in saturated fats and should be used moderately. Many baked goods and fried foods are also high in saturated fats.
Trans fats can be natural or artificial. Natural trans fats are found in animal products, while artificial trans fats are created during food manufacturing to give food flavor and texture that is palatable. Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. It is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated oil” on food packages - this is a sure sign that the food contains trans fats. While artificial trans fats are currently banned in the United States, they can still be found in some food such as baked goods, fried foods, and non-dairy coffee creamers. Naturally occurring trans fats can also still be found in animal products like dairy and fatty cuts of meat.
Healthy fats are an essential part of our diet, and should be enjoyed in moderation. Foods containing saturated and trans fat should be limited when possible, and it is a good idea to always read the food label if you are unsure whether a food has saturated or trans fats. All fats contain 9 calories per gram, so use moderation even when eating healthy fats.
Pure Plates makes balancing your fat intake simple by using healthy fats like nuts, seed, avocado, and olive oil in their meal prepped dishes. We also use fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3s. Choosing a meal prep delivery service that puts your health and wellness at the forefront is crucial for success in your healthy eating journey. By using Pure Plates for your prepared meal delivery, you can feel confident all your nutrients are balanced - including your fat intake!