The science behind dietary fats changes from time to time, so it’s not always clear which fats are bad for you. We know artificial trans fats are bad and probably some of the saturated fats are too (but maybe not all of them). Fortunately, the picture is a little clearer when it comes to knowing which fats are good for you. Nutrition scientists do know which fats have health benefits—the omega-3 fats and the monounsaturated fats.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These friendly fats are essential for eye and brain development in babies and young children, plus there’s some evidence that they might be good for aging brains as well. Omega-3’s are good for your heart too, because they help keep bad cholesterol in check and are important for maintaining a regular heartbeat. Because these fats are so important, the American Heart Association suggests that everyone eat fish 2 to 3 times per week.
Fish and seafood, especially ocean fish like salmon and tuna, along with trout are rich in two types of omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA, which also happen to be the forms of omega-3 fats your body uses.
But maybe you don’t eat fish. That’s okay because some plants contain another form called ALA. Your body can absorb ALA and convert it into a form that it needs. Walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and soy are all excellent sources of ALA. Whether you choose fish and seafood or plant sources, it’s important to know that you need to get these fats from your diet because your body can’t make them from other types of fat.
Eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats is good for your heart because it helps reduce bad cholesterol levels. These friendly fats are also helpful for people who have diabetes because they can help regulate blood sugar levels. Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like avocados and olives, and most nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is particularly high in monounsaturated fats (and omega-3’s) as well.
Calories Count, Though
All fats, no matter what kind they are, have 9 calories per gram - that’s almost twice as many as
carbohydrates and protein, so some of these foods are a little high in calories. That’s okay, just keep an eye on portion size and don’t add extra calories with heavy creams and sauces.
Shereen Lehman is a health and nutrition writer with two decades of experience counseling people on nutrition and diet. She has a master’s degree in human nutrition and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Association of Health Care Journalists. She is the co-author of Superfoods for Dummies and Clinical Anatomy for Dummies. Shereen also teaches The Evidence Based Approach to Nutrition to nutrition graduate students at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
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