Healthy Versus Unhealthy Fats in Foods

Among the millions of people struggling to lose weight, many significantly reduce the fat in their diet. Non-dieters are usually unconcerned about how much or what forms of fat are consumed at all. Both approaches fail to appreciate how critical good fat is for healthy brain and body function, and that the different kinds of fat are far from created equal. Of the four varieties, one is definitely toxic to human health, one is linked to heart disease, and two are beneficial in multiple ways.

Trans-fats

Industrially-produced trans-fats have added hydrogen bonds in order to give fragile oils an almost limitless shelf life. When consumed, these solid oils raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthful HDL cholesterol, leading to heart disease. While their use has been limited, manufacturers are still permitted to use 0.5g of trans-fats per serving in their products. Look for oils that are "partially-hydrogenated" on food labels for candy, chips, peanut butters, soda, pastries, margarine and processed foods -- and avoid these products.

Saturated Fats

Found in meat, dairy products, coconut and palm oil, saturated fats have a mixed reputation. Some cholesterol is needed in the diet for brain and adrenal function, yet saturated fat intake is also linked to cardiovascular disease. In general, it's best to limit consumption of butter and red meat, including beef, lamb and pork. Coconut oil is very stable up to high temperatures and is a good choice for cooking. It also has unique antiviral and anti-fungal properties.

Monounsaturated Fats

Nuts, seeds, sunflower and olive oil, and certain fish like halibut and mackerel are all good sources of beneficial monounsaturated fats, shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by improving cholesterol levels. Olive oil is central to the diet of the extraordinarily long-lived people of the Mediterranean, and can be eaten daily. To avoid consuming rancid olive oil - undetectable by scent because of deodorization -- buy only domestic, extra-virgin olive oil in a dark bottle and store in a cool, dark, dry place.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Famed polyunsaturated fats have an even more powerful heart-protecting effect than monounsaturated fats and are found in fatty or cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and trout. Vegetarian sources include chia seeds, flax seeds and flax seed oil, walnuts, and soybean oil. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods, sorely lacking in American diets, ensure optimal brain function and positive mood. Eat fatty fish up to three times a week and vegetarian sources of polyunsaturated fats frequently to enjoy better brain and heart health.

While fats have been maligned in recent decades, incorporating fats in your diet sensibly means more satisfaction and improved health. In fact, low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets have been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and lead to weight gain. Instead, savor lean meats, fish, coconut and olive oil, and nuts and seeds for a well-oiled body and satisfied stomach.