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AS people become more conscious about their health, more and more are looking into the nutritional benefits of the various foods that they eat. Amidst the sudden surge of interest in superfoods and diet trends, there are a few common misconceptions that need to be addressed.
One of these is the perception that fats are generally perceived to be bad for health and should be avoided to prevent weight gain. Some of this is justified because certain types of fat – and the fat-like substance cholesterol – plays a role in illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
However, not all fats are created equal. Some fats are better for you than others, and may even help promote good health. And knowing the difference can help you determine which fats to avoid and which to eat in moderation.
Benefits of healthy fats
Dietary fat is categorised as saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – should be the dominant type of fat in a balanced diet, because they reduce the risk of clogged arteries, thus reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
It can also help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, it keeps your hair and skin healthy, forms the foundation of your cell membranes, supplies energy and provides insulation to help regulate your body’s temperature.
Certain types of fat also possess anti-inflammatory properties, which can help protect against chronic disease and help improve health. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, have been shown to relieve inflammation and reduce symptoms of autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. Eating a good variety of foods high in fat can also boost brain function
Adding more of these healthy fats to your diet may also help to make you feel more satisfied after a meal, reducing hunger and thus promoting weight loss.
What can we eat?
Good sources of unsaturated fats include:
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oils
- Peanut butter
- Most nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines) and fish oil
- Soybean and soy products
Two types of fats – saturated fat and trans fat – have been identified as potentially harmful to your health. As a rule, trans fat should be avoided completely, while saturated fats should be eaten very sparingly.
Saturated fat, while less harmful than trans fat, can raise bad LDL cholesterol levels, and consuming too much of it can negatively impact heart health, so it is best to consume in moderation.
Primary sources of saturated fats include red meat such as beef, lamb and porl, chicken skin, whole-fat dairy products, butter, ice cream, lard and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil.
While there’s no need to cut out all saturated fat from your diet, most nutrition experts recommend limiting it to 10% of your daily calories.
Rules to remember
Here are three simple ways to avoid bad fats, including trans fat:
1. Avoid packaged foods when possible. Instead, choose whole foods, or foods you make at home. For example, you can make your own macaroni and cheese from scratch, or your own flavoured rice mixes.
2. Eat lean sources of protein, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
3. Use healthy oils such as olive, canola, and sunflower oil, and small amounts of tub margarine for cooking and flavouring foods.
While healthier fats are an important part of your diet, it’s still crucial to moderate your consumption of them, because all fats are high in calories. As a result, it’s a good idea to focus on foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It’s a strategy that will help your heart and improve your quality of life.
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