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Fats: The Good the Bad and the Ugly Health Tips

One of the best ways to look after your heart is to monitor your fat intake. You probably already know that fats come in a number of different guises; these are trans fats, saturated fats and unsaturated fats. It's a myth that all fats are bad for you however, you just need to be choosy about the type of fats that you consume. Even if you are on a low-fat diet you should not give up eating fat entirely. Fat provides us with a concentrated source of calories and it helps to supply us with the energy that we need to get through the day. It also provides us with linoleic acid which is the essential fatty acid that your body uses for growth, healthy skin and metabolism. While all fats have the same number of calories, you'll find that some fats are, calorie for calorie, more harmful than others.

Unsaturated Fats

There are two types of unsaturated fatty acids, namely monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. These originate in vegetables and plants. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but solidify when they get cold.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and in small amounts are not too bad for us. You can find monounsaturated fat in olive oil, rapeseed oil and spreads which are made from these oils. Nuts and seeds are also high in monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Again, it's fine to have polyunsaturated fats in your diet in small amounts. Soya, vegetable and sunflower oil, as well as their associated spreads, are all high in polyunsaturated fat which help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and provide you with essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are of particular importance and are found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. You'll also find omega-3 in walnuts, dark green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage and tofu, and in corn oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil and virgin olive oil. The body needs a certain amount of polyunsaturated fat in order to keep the digestive system and the immune system in good working order. Omega-3 is also good for your brain and mental health.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that raise cholesterol levels. They are commonly used to extend the shelf life of processed foods. Any item that contains "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" will probably contain trans fats. Trans fats are the easiest to cut out of your diet. These are found in foods such as biscuits, cakes and pastries, and foods that are deep fried such as fish and chips. Trans fats are also naturally occurring in small amounts in dairy foods and meat but the worst kinds of trans fats are those that are industrially produced for convenience food. Certainly, trans fatty foods tempt your taste buds, but they clog your arteries when they turn to sludge.

Saturated Fats

There is a lot of discussion about whether saturated fat is good or bad for you. Saturated fats come from animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, and some plant-based products such as coconut, and palm and palm kernel oils. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. Too much saturated fat can increase the cholesterol in your blood, which may increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Conventional advice suggest they should be avoided as far as possible but more recently, some have questioned this, as there are different kinds of saturated fats, some of which have at least a neutral effect on cholesterol. It is recognised by many that naturally occurring fats are better for you than factory manufactured spreads.

Incorporating Fat Into Your Diet in a Healthy Way

Swap saturated fat for a small amount of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat and opt for leaner cuts of meat. Get into the habit of reading food labels when you go shopping. This way you can make sensible choices about the food you purchase and consume. Avoid products that list partially hydrogenated fat or oil on the label. If you are a budget conscious shopper be aware that the cheaper processed foods are the most likely to contain bad fats. Where possible cook meals from scratch and this way you will know exactly how much fat you are adding to your meal. Finally, why not experiment with herbs and spices to replace flavour that is lost when you take out the fat.

By RomanM82 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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