All about Fats – which ones to eat and which ones to avoid

by Danica on March 11, 2014

It’s really pretty unfortunate that a description for an overweight person (“fat”) is the same word as a nutrient we need for good health, isn’t it?  I think it causes a lot of confusion for people – it used to for me!

Remember that whole “low-fat/fat-free” phase we went through in the 90s?  I guess it’s still lingering today, but everything from peanut butter to milk got its natural fat replaced with sugar, salt, or something else.  Around the same time as the fat-free craze occurred, our country’s obesity rates skyrocketed.  I don’t think those two are directly tied together, but I do think the low-fat diet push only made things worse.

beware of fat-free and low-fat labels

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Fats have received a long bout of negative press, but as we now know, there really is value in the consumption of healthy fats.  There’s a difference though – not all fats are created equal!

Today I’m discussing these 4 kinds of fat:
trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats.

fried food

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At all costs, stay away from trans fat.   It causes plaque buildup in the arteries, which significantly increases risk of heart disease and stroke.  Many studies also show that trans fat increases risk for depression and certain cancers.

Trans Fat can be found in:

  • fried foods – french fries, chicken nuggets, donuts, fried meats (many things from fast food restaurants) – basically whatever is fried in hydrogenated oils  *many restaurants are catching on to this and are reducing the amount of trans fats in their products, but even a tiny bit (as stated below) wreaks havoc on your health
  • solid fats – stick margarine, vegetable shortenings
  • many commercial baked goods – muffins, cookies, crackers, cakes, pizza dough, pie crusts, ready-made frosting
  • some snack foods – candy, microwaved popcorn bags, some tortilla chips
  • and even some peanut butters

22 Worst Foods for Trans Fat

Be on the lookout for the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oil” and avoid it!  <–the FDA allows the label “trans-fat free” if there’s less than 1g of trans fat per serving in a product, but even half a gram of trans fat can leave your heart with a significantly increased risk of problems.

coconut oil - organic

Saturated fats have health benefits, in moderation.

This isn’t a type of fat you necessarily want to consume in excess (overdoing it increases risk of heart disease), but it’s one to make a regular part of your diet.  Some people do well eating most of these foods listed below daily, some people don’t – meaning that some have an intolerance to dairy or ethical/environmental reasons not to eat animal products – you have to find what is best for you.

Saturated fats include:

  • extra virgin coconut oil
  • palm oil (though there’s controversy surrounding this one, so please do your research before deciding if its best for you – I personally don’t seek it out but don’t worry about eating a bit of it)
  • organic butter
  • organic grass-fed chicken
  • organic eggs
  • organic whole-fat dairy products
  • organic high-fat cuts of meat – beef, lamb, pork

avocado

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Monounsaturated Fats are generally considered heart-healthy and can be consumed daily.

These fats raise good HDL and lower LDL cholesterol levels.  They aid in healthy digestion, weightloss, and weight management.

Monounsatuarated Fats include:

  • olives and extra virgin olive oil
  • avocados
  • sesame seed oil
  • nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), macadamia nuts, tahini, sesame seeds
  • nut and seed butters, made from any of the nuts/seeds listed above (be sure to read the ingredients – the list should only include the nut or seed and maybe salt)
  • fish, particularly halibut, sablefish, and mackerel

Chia Seeds

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Polyunsaturated Fats are similar to monounsaturated fats in that they’re considered heart-healthy and regular consumption is encouraged.  Polyunsaturated Fats contain healthy omega fats.

These fats raise good HDL and lower LDL cholesterol, plus are considered anti-inflammatory (due to the omega fats) which are associated with lower risk of many diseases/illnesses and prevention of early death.

Polyunsatuarated Fats include:

  • flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts
  • hemp seeds
  • sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds
  • some leafy green vegetables
  • fish, particularly salmon, trout, tuna, mackeral, herring, sardines, tilapia

When someone refers to “healthy fats,” they’re talking about these last three groups – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated.

While healthy fats vital for a healthy life, remember that, like anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.  It’s often recommended that 20-35% of an adult’s daily diet is healthy fats.  Use your common sense and eat the amount your body thrives off of!

All About Fats - which ones to eat & which ones to avoid.jpg

Healthy Fats are essential for:

  • vitamin absorption

  • immune system function

  • proper nerve activity

  • the healthy regeneration and growth of cells

  • optimal brain function

  • healthy weight management

Healthy Fats:

  • reduct inflammation (relieve joint pain and reduce symptoms of arthritis, lupus, etc.)

  • stimulate metabolism

  • lower risk of cancers, especially breast and prostate cancer

  • help protect against mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and depression

  • aid in natural fertility

  • boost your mood

  • provide satiation

  • produce natural energy

And there you have it!  If you stuck it out to the end, bravo, friend!  That was a lot of information.  But I hope this helps clear up any confusion about fats, and encourages you to make healthy fats a priority in your diet!

*****

What are your favorite healthy fats?

What advice do you have for someone who wants to include more healthy fats into their diet?

m4s0n501

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessie March 11, 2014 at 5:29 am

Great post. The first thing that came to my mind before I kept reading the whole post was the misconception of how much coconut oil to use. I feel like all of a sudden coconut oil was this new and exciting that everyone wanted their hands on.. however, i truly feel like it’s consumed way to much on a daily basis. Yes it’s a healthy fat… but like you said – in moderation!
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2 Danica March 11, 2014 at 7:14 am

I agree. While coconut oil has a TON of health benefits and uses, I do think that, in general, we’re pushing it a little too much.

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3 Cat March 11, 2014 at 6:58 am

I’ve been doing great introducing more saturated fats into my diet, but I’m still al little confused about polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats – walnuts are listed under both!? I also didn’t know about different fish being better for certain types of fat. Very interesting!
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4 Danica March 11, 2014 at 7:11 am

Yeah, walnuts are typically considered a monounsaturated fat, due to their high level of healthy omega-3 levels, but I’ve seen them listed as both, so I just included them in each category. Regardless of where they’re listed though, they’re fantastic for our health! :)

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5 Linz @ Itz Linz March 11, 2014 at 7:14 am

i loooooove nut butters! but like you said, they do need to be eaten in moderation!!
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6 Danica March 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Nut butters are the healthy fat I can easily overdo – they’re just so good!

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7 Katie March 11, 2014 at 9:36 am

Wonderful! Have you ever thought about linking up with “did you know friday” ? this could be a great fit for you! http://www.morethanjustdessert.com/2014/03/06/did-you-know-friday-linkup-do-you-know-your-milks/
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8 Danica March 11, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I didn’t know that existed actually, so thanks for the link! I’ll definitely consider joining in!

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9 Hannah @ CleanEatingVeggieGirl March 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

I used to be afraid of fats, but I am so glad that my outlook has changed on that because I LOVE nuts, nut butters, coconut oil, and avocado..like A LOT ! ;)
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10 Danica March 11, 2014 at 2:24 pm

meee toooooo :)

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11 Caitlin March 11, 2014 at 10:11 am

Avocados and nut butters! And a touch of real butter on toast with eggs! I spent way too much time in the last few years eating fat free crap, so I’m making up for lost time these days ;)
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12 Danica March 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm

love it :)
and avocados have become ones of my favorites, too – I didn’t like them at all until maybe a year ago and now there’s always some in our kitchen!

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13 Sam @ Better With Sprinkles March 11, 2014 at 10:45 am

Great post! I’ve been consuming nut butters and avocado like it’s my job lately in hopes of getting my period back. I definitely did the fat-free everything back in the day…and it’s so much more flavourful and saturating these days. I mean, low-fat cheese is pretty horrid, and I’d much rather eat full-fat peanut butter than peanut butter with more sugar and creepy chemicals added.
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14 Danica March 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Me too – it kind of ties in with the “low calorie” trend, which thankfully is finally starting to go away. The nutrients are always what are most important!

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15 Brittany @ Delights and Delectables March 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm

love this!! Everything in moderation!
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16 Rachel @ Undercover Diva: A Sitcom March 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm

LOVE THIS! A number of my friends who ask me about healthy living constantly say “fat makes you fat” but that’s not necessarily true!! This is a great list… thank you for sharing!!
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17 Danica March 11, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Absolutely! Healthy Fats actually aid in the opposite, within reason of course – glad you can share that with your friends!

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18 Tara@PNWRunner March 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm

This is great!! Really explains the difference between all of the varieties of “fats!” Very helpful! I’d eat avocados very single day if I could!:D
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19 Danica March 12, 2014 at 9:06 am

I adore avocados! I eat at least a part of one almost every day :)

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20 Sarah @ Sarah Sincerely March 12, 2014 at 5:25 am

Great post Danica! So informative! I think lots of us fall into the trap of assuming everything fat-free and/or low-fat is the “healthiest” option, but as you pointed out, that’s not true! Thanks for pointing out that we NEED fat and it’s essential to our bodies’ health and function.
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21 Danica March 12, 2014 at 9:08 am

Absolutely! I’m thankful that I know “better” now too – I truly believe healthy fats are what have tremendously helped me overcome my hormone imbalance. I’m not quite “over it” yet, but I’ve made significant progress since adding more of these foods into my daily diet :)

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22 Sarah@creatingbettertomorrow March 12, 2014 at 5:44 am

I seem to go in spurts on my favorites :) it was walnuts for a bit – now I’m stuck on cashews! And I do love seeds (pumpkin and sunflower!). Before and now that we are expecting fats have become my favorite things! We women especially NEED some good fat for our body to thrive

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23 Danica March 12, 2014 at 9:09 am

I go in major phases with nuts/seeds, too. And I love that you’re eating plenty of them – think about how amazing that is for your growing babies! <3

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24 Kim March 12, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Love the breakdown of this list! One question- do you guys strictly purchase organic products? We do eggs, poultry, beef and some produce, but not everything.
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25 Danica March 13, 2014 at 7:42 am

Not everything we buy is organic, no. I do buy a lot of organic products though. Eggs and any dairy and meat items I always buy organic, and also the dirty dozen foods, like apples, carrots, lettuce and greens, celery, broccoli, etc. For everything else, I kind of pick and choose. Mostly it’s organic foods, but things like bananas, almond milk, oranges, and some cereals just aren’t – hopefully someday it’ll work for us to buy all organic/local, but I do what we can for now :)

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26 Heather @fitncookies March 13, 2014 at 7:33 am

This is an important topic for people to read about because many think fat will make you fat. It will, in excess, but not in moderation. It is good for you to eat! I agree with Jessie about the coconut oil too. So many people are using it for everything in every meal these days!
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27 Danica March 13, 2014 at 7:49 am

I think that oftentimes we need more than we think (that seemed to be the case for me, too), but yes, it’s important to choose the “right” ones, a variety of fats, and to not overdo it!

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