…by Mary Pearsall

Are you thoroughly and utterly confused about the different types of fat – what you should avoid and what you should include in your diet? Join the club! Recent research on the health advantages and disadvantages of various fats and oils has left the majority of us confused about what to take to the checkout stand and what to leave on the shelf. Low fat diets were all the rage for years, and now we are told that we actually need to eat fat to maintain a healthy and well rounded diet!

Yes, it is true that fat is on located on the food pyramid and is not the evil foe as we were led to believe. Indeed, fat is our friend and serves many useful and necessary functions in our bodies. However it is important to know what kinds of fat to include in your diet and what to avoid for optimum health benefits. Following these tips will help alleviate confusion at the market and contribute to a better understanding of the options available.

1. Include some fat in your diet. Consuming too much fat certainly is not good for you (as is consuming too much of any nutrient). Experts recommend that your fat intake should be limited to 30 per cent of total calories. But do not fear fat since it is essential to your health. It provides concentrated energy, helps transport critical nutrients, defends the body against heat loss, protects organs and tissues, helps produce hormones and may affect the very structure and function of your cells.

2. What type of fat you consume is key. The type of fat you eat can have very important health consequences. Fats are classified as either saturated or unsaturated. The more saturated a fat is, the more solid its form. Saturated fats are derived primarily from animal sources and are present in red meat, lard, whole milk dairy products and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Eat as little saturated fat as possible because they increase your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Unsaturated fats are derived from plants and are normally liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are further classified as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Some polyunsaturated fats are called essential because the human body cannot produce them and they need to be obtained from food.

3. Your best oil choice – Olive oil and Canola oil. These mono-unsaturated oils can improve your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Olive oil is particularly beneficial, because it reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol while maintaining “good” HDL cholesterol. Almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan and peanut oils are also healthful choices.

4. Your worst oil choices. Corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, soybean and sesame oils can have unpredictable effects on your health. Their structure makes them likely to oxidize, which can damage DNA, increase risk for some cancers, narrow the arteries and cause other health problems.

5. Eat more fish and nuts. Choose salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna and sardines and eat them at least three times a week. Walnuts can be eaten once a day in moderation – about a handful should do it. Flaxseed can be sprinkled on cereals, salads, and yogurt. These foods provide omega-3 essential fatty acids which can inhibit blood clots, lower risk of heart disease, increase immune function, promote eye and brain development and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.

6. Avoid trans fats as much as possible. Trans fats are unsaturated fats that are hydrogenated or heated and may be even more harmful than saturated fats. Trans fats may increase the risk of heart disease and breast cancer and alter cell membranes and metabolism. Carefully check food labels, watching for “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” in margarine, shortening, spreads and processed or prepared foods. Remember that the further down the list of ingredients an item appears, the less of it there is.

So, as you can see, fat is an important part of a healthy diet. There\’s more and more evidence that many fats are good for us and actually reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. They also help our sugar and insulin metabolism and therefore contribute to our goals of long-term weight loss and weight maintenance. And because good fats make foods taste better, they help us enjoy the journey to a healthier lifestyle. Relax, embrace fat as your friend, using the above guidelines. You will enjoy a more complete and satisfying food plan, higher energy reserves and better quality of life.