- In This Feature
- Monounsaturated Fats
- Polyunsaturated Fats, Saturated Fats, and Trans-Fats
- How to Manage Fat in Your Diet
The word fat means different things to different people and is often cause for confusion. For many, fat has a negative connotation and should be avoided or battled daily. Food manufacturers take advantage of society's distaste for fat by marketing low-fat foods, implying that these products will help you manage or lose weight. The marketers offer the notion that fats are a component of many foods that we eat, and that minimizing fat intake is a good thing.
Some people have heard the true story about fat and know it just is not that simple. There are indeed both good fats and bad fats—some we need, some we should avoid. Words like trans-fat, fatty acids, omega-3 fats, and cholesterol add to the general confusion. Well, it is time to clear up the confusion.
For a dietitian, the word fat has a technical and precise meaning as one of the fundamental categories of nutrients that are required by our bodies for healthy functioning (the other commonly referred to nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals).
There are different varieties of fats: some are essential for good health, while other fats can have harmful and even deadly consequences for you and your family. The four basic varieties of fats are:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
The monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are collectively known as the unsaturated fats and are good for you. The saturated and trans-fats are generally unhealthy fats—and trans-fats are the absolute worst of the entire lot.
Monounsaturated fats are found in plant oils, such as peanut, canola, and olive oils. The health benefits of these fats are related to their impact on cholesterol levels in your body. Cholesterol plays important roles in your body, including helping in the formation of cell membranes and hormones. So, cholesterol, often derided as a health concern, is not intrinsically bad for you; it is in fact essential to your body's healthy functioning.
It's important to know, there are two varieties of cholesterol: LDL, or bad cholesterol, and HDL, or good cholesterol. If too much LDL cholesterol builds up in your arteries it can cause atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and heart disease. Eating monounsaturated fats reduces the levels of bad cholesterol in your body and raises the level of the good, constructive cholesterol. It is hypothesized that for this reason a Mediterranean diet, or one high in healthy olive oil, can contribute to reduced risk for heart disease.