Expert Health Articles

Healthy Fats vs. Unhealthy Fats

Martha GonzalezMartha Gonzalez, RD, LD, CLC

Clinical Nutrition Manager, Blanchard Valley Health System

Fat tends to get a bad rap when it comes to food. That should not be the case. Fat helps the body absorb certain vitamins and minerals. It also provides a lot of energy for the body to use. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, adults should get 20-35 percent of their calories from fat. Getting calories from the right kind of fat is key.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are “good” sources of fat. They help the body complete day-to-day functions. They can help lower total cholesterol levels as well as reduce the risk of heart disease. Foods that are high in this kind of good fat include: olive oil, walnuts, almonds, flaxseed, salmon and tuna. Another food that is loaded with healthy fats is avocado. Avocado can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, which is known as the “bad” kind of cholesterol. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and eat a dozen avocadoes if your cholesterol is a little high. Instead, maybe add a couple of slices of avocado instead of bacon or cheese next time you grab a salad or burger. Avocadoes are good to eat in moderation and are packed with vitamins and minerals, on top of all those healthy fats needed for proper body function.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10 percent of total calories come from bad fats. The bad fats are trans and saturated fat. Foods high in bad fats include poultry skin, bacon, sausage, whole milk, cream, and butter, stick margarine, shortening, some fried foods, baked goods and pastries. Packaged foods that are highly processed also tend to have a lot of extra fat added to them. It is important to limit these types of foods.  

When in doubt, aim for mono and polyunsaturated fat options. A helpful way to sneak in good fat in your daily diet would be to add flaxseed to your smoothie. Another possible way to add good fat could be by adding some slices of avocado to your salad or using a tablespoon of olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar as your salad dressing.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Being mindful about food choices and adding in healthy fats to flavor it is a great way to help your body run properly.