Fats: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

April 3, 2017

By Susan M. Gutierrez
Mercy Clinic Pediatrics – Carthage

Research is continuing to evolve on dietary fat, but some facts are clear: Certain fats have been linked to negative effects on heart health, while others have been found to offer significant health benefits.

The Good

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel in the body and turn to fat as a backup energy source when carbohydrates are not available. Fat is as essential to your diet as protein and carbohydrates are in fueling your body with energy.

Certain bodily functions rely on the presence of fat. For example, some vitamins require fat to dissolve into your bloodstream and provide nutrients. If you don't meet your daily fat intake or follow a low-fat diet, vitamin absorption may be limited, resulting in impaired functioning.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered more “heart-healthy” good fats, which you should include in your diet in moderation. Foods that primarily contain these healthier fats tend to be liquid when they’re at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fat is present in a variety of foods and oils. Research consistently has shown that eating foods that contain it can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. These include nuts, vegetable oils, peanut butter and almond butter, and avocados.

Plant-based foods and oils are the primary source of polyunsaturated fat. Like monounsaturated fat, it can decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.

A certain type of this fat, called omega-3 fatty acid, has been shown to be beneficial particularly for your heart. Omega-3 not only appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, but also may help lower blood pressure levels and guard against irregular heartbeats.

Omega-3 and omega-6 also play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Omega-6 helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system.

Fatty fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, herring, sardines and trout. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, find polyunsaturated fat in foods that also contain omega-6 fatty acids: tofu, roasted soy beans and soy nut butter, walnuts, seeds, vegetable oils and soft margarine.

The Bad

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. It’s found mainly in meat and dairy products. Examples include fatty beef, lamb, pork, chicken with skin, whole milk, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream. Additionally, baked goods and fried foods can be high in saturated fat because they are made with ingredients loaded with butter, cream and lard.

The Ugly

Saturated fats raise levels of cholesterol in your blood, which clogs your arteries over time, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Plus, many foods high in saturated fats also are high in dietary cholesterol, which raises levels of artery-clogging cholesterol even higher.

Because fat is high in calories, limit your diet to 20 percent to 35 percent calories from fat. Based on an 1,800-calorie diet, this recommendation amounts to 40 to 70 grams of fat daily.

Some margarine will contain trans fats if made with hydrogenated ingredients, so make sure to always choose non-hydrogenated versions. Labeling laws allow food companies to round down to zero and claim “no trans fats” or “zero grams of trans fats” despite still containing hydrogenated oils, so ignore the front-of-package marketing and always read the ingredient list.

In addition, replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, as well as avoiding trans fats, may protect your heart, especially when accompanied by other heart-healthy lifestyle measures.

Susan M. Gutierrez is a certified family nurse practitioner and registered nurse who has a master of science in nursing for Mercy Clinic Pediatrics – Carthage, 1911 S. Buena Vista. The phone number is 417-237-0983.