With all the confusing news about fats, you might think it's easier to steer clear of them altogether. Not so. The good fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, can actually help reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. And you may be surprised as to what's considered a good fat. For example, monounsaturated fat, the healthiest fat, is found at higher levels in:
- Olive, canola, and other vegetable oils
- Nuts like almonds and peanuts (including peanut butter)
- Avocados (including guacamole)
Polyunsaturated fats are also important to your diet, especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s), which may decrease your risk of coronary artery disease, may protect against irregular heartbeats, and help lower blood pressure. Polyunsaturated fats are found at higher levels in:
- Salmon, trout, and herring (high in omega-3s)
- Soybean and corn oils
- Walnuts and sunflower seeds
Though the better fats are a necessary part of your diet, they still have the same amount of calories as the bad fats and should also be eaten in moderation. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that fats (mostly unsaturated) make up 25 to 35 percent of your daily diet-but only 7 percent of those should be fats on the "bad" list.
Bad fats (saturated and trans fats) have that reputation for good reason. They can raise your blood cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources and include meats, cheeses, butter, and some plant oils like coconut and palm oil. Unless your doctor has told you to steer clear of saturated fats altogether, the AHA's recommended 7 percent-if you eat approximately 2,000 calories a day, that's only 140 calories or 16 grams-is a good guide. Consult with your doctor or the AHA's My Fats Translator to calculate the right fat ratio for your body type and level of exercise.
Trans fats rarely occur naturally, are mostly manufactured by food companies to preserve foods and add texture and taste to them, and have no nutritional value. Baked goods, pie crusts, cookies, crackers, margarine, and shortening may contain trans fats; try to avoid them by reading product labels.
One of the most popular trans-fat culprits is french fries made in deep fryers at fast-food restaurants. Though many fast-food restaurant chains have eliminated trans fat, and some cities like New York and states like California have or will soon ban them altogether, beware of "trans-free" restaurants. They may still purchase fries and other foods previously fried in trans fat. It's best to be wary of restaurant-fried foods since they pack a lot of calories, no matter what they're fried in.