5 things you need to know about eating fats
Do you remember what Oreos tasted like before 2009?
The popular cookie, and many other mass-produced foods, were changed and reformulated due to an expanded awareness of and caution against eating trans fats, or trans-unsaturated fatty acids.
Most trans fats are created artificially through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Trans fats have a reputation for boosting flavor and increasing shelf life.
Around the time of the Oreo change, the Food and Drug Administration required all companies to label the amounts of trans fats per serving in their food. Partially hydrogenated oils, which are the main source of trans fats in many processed and fast foods, have since been determined to be “unsafe” for human consumption and were banned from food products in the U.S. in 2018.
Elizabeth Zawila, a nutritionist at the Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says incorporating – or removing – different types of fat from your diet can play a large role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
First, we must differentiate between the four types of fats, Zawila says – the “bad” trans and saturated fats and the “good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Frequently, you can tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated without even looking at a nutrition label.
“Products with high trans fats have an extremely long shelf life, are man-made and are usually inexpensive,” Zawila says. “If you leave a product at room temperature and it becomes a liquid, it is unsaturated, and if it retains its original form, it likely has a high content of saturated fats.”
So what makes these “bad fats” so bad? Primarily, trans fats are known to raise levels of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, increasing heart attack and stroke risks.
“You do not need to eliminate most foods that are heavily processed or have a high fat content completely, but when you do have them, be conscious about the amount you are consuming,” she says.
Conversely, monounsaturated fats have high levels of HDL cholesterol, which actually carries away the “bad” cholesterol from the arteries and back to the liver, where LDLs are broken down and passed from the body. Much has also been made of the benefits of polyunsaturated fats such as the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and some nuts (though less when taken as supplements). Evidence shows eating foods rich in these fats also improves cholesterol levels and may decrease the risk of heart disease.
Zawila offers a few tips on what how to improve your relationship with fats:
- Purchase lean meats, low-fat dairy products and white cheeses. Specifically, pork tenderloin is a good but often overlooked option, as it is leaner than even chicken breast.
- Substitute fish high in omega-3 fatty acids in meals at least twice a week.
- Generally avoid processed foods, which usually contain more of the “bad” fats.
- Use oils instead of solid fats when cooking, such as using olive oil instead of butter.
- Don’t feel pressure to eliminate fat entirely, as the human body needs it to function and can help add a sense of fullness to a meal. In a healthy diet, about 30 percent of total daily calories should come from fat – only a third of that should come from saturated fatty acids.
For people unable to control their weight through traditional methods, Advocate Aurora Health provides the experience, skill and lifestyle tools necessary to help you reclaim your life. Our Healthy Weight Assessment will help you start a conversation with your health care provider.
About the Author
Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.