Monday, March 22, 2010

Fat Part II: The Good

Fat sometimes gets a bad reputation, but I am here to tell you that it is a good and essential part of your diet. About 20 to 35 percent of your calories should come from fat; and the idea is to get most of that from healthy unsaturated fats. Today, I’ll be discussing what healthy fat is and which foods you can get it from.

Basically, any unsaturated fat is healthy. The only exception is trans fat, which is technically an unsaturated fat. You will not always see the good unsaturated fat listed food labels; however, calculating it is easy. Subtract trans fat and saturated fat from the total fat. Your answer from that simple math equation will give you the amount of unsaturated fat that is present in a serving. Sometimes the food label will breakdown fats into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which are both good for you!

Generally you will find unsaturated fats to be in oils, avocados, cold water fish, nuts, nut butters, and flax seed. Salmon, mackerel, halibut, and sardines are examples of seafood that are high in unsaturated fat. Remember that the wild varieties are going to be much more rich in healthy fat than farm-raised. Unfortunately, wild fish is more expensive, but my advice would be to stock your freezer when it is on sale. Olive, peanut, and canola oils are the best to choose from. Olive oil is great for sautéing, lightly pan frying, and dipping bread. Peanut oil is great for deep frying, not that I’m recommending this. Lastly, canola is fine for frying but also great for baking.

You have probably heard about omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA and EPA are simply specific types of omega-3 fatty acids. They are all wonderful for your heart and are extremely important for brain development in children. If you have had difficulty raising your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) or lowering your LDL (the bad cholesterol), then consider discussing consuming more omega-3 fatty acids with your doctor. There is also evidence that these fats help to decrease the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease (note that there is some conflicting evidence in this area). In addition to warding off disease, these fats can also help to decrease inflammation in your body, which possibly means less arthritic pain.

Any type of fat is good for a host of reasons as well. Fat in your diet is essential for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and allowing you to feel full. In your body, fat cushions your bones, provides insulation and energy, plays a role in immunity, and helps to produce hormone-like compounds. These are just some of the roles that fat plays. As you can see, fat is essential, but you have to be sure that you’re eating the right types!

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  1. Any types of nuts that are "better" than others (assuming unsalted)? Thanks for the coup-ions.

  2. -Busy-Dad-E: Excellent question! I can't believe I didn't include that in my post, but I'm so glad you brought it up. Walnuts, almonds, and peanuts have the best "heart healthy" reputation due to their stellar balance of fats. It is okay to enjoy other nuts, but the three mentioned will be of the most benefit to you. The key is, keep the serving size small....about 1 oz! Add then to a salad, top your fish with some crushed nuts, or enjoy a small handfull. You're welcome for the coup-ions!

  3. Are macadamias and cashews strictly on the avoid list, or are they ok in very small amounts?
    Great post....very informative and interesting as usual!

  4. Erin'sMom: I'm glad you asked that question. Yes, small amounts are fine for those nuts. They are higher in saturated fat, so you would want to have them more on an occasional basis.