Lumping all fats into one category—bad—may not be the best way to approach this tricky food group. Yes, consuming too many unhealthy dietary fats can set you up for potential health problems, including weight gain and high cholesterol. But there are several healthy fats that your body needs to function properly. These healthy fats do many things in your body, such as keep your energy levels up, protect organs, and make sure key vitamins are absorbed by your body.
Here’s a short guide to fats that may help when reading food labels and planning your meals.
According to health experts, about one quarter of your total calories should come from unsaturated fat each day. So if you are following a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that means, on average, around 500 calories should come from one of the sources below.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, and soy. Polyunsaturated fats can actually help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping lower your cholesterol level. Omega-3 fatty acids, another type of polyunsaturated fat, are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. Plant sources of omega-3 include walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Monounsaturated fats: The best sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, along with avocados and most kinds of nuts. Monounsaturated fats also can help lower your cholesterol level.
You should limit the amount of saturated fats to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories (140 calories if you’re on a 2000-calorie diet), according to the American Heart Association.
- Saturated fats: Saturated fats can be found in foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, butter, and whole milk.
Trans fats should make up less than 1 percent of your total daily calories (20 calories if you’re on a 2000-calorie diet).
- Trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils): These can be found in many store-bought baked goods such as crackers, cookies, and cakes, and in deep-fried foods such as doughnuts and French fries. Many margarines and shortenings contain trans fats as well. If you are not sure whether a food contains trans fats, check the Nutrition Facts label. Trans fat will appear under saturated fat.
Ways to get more good fats
Healthy fats can help keep up your energy levels. This list highlights some ways to include more healthy fats—fewer bad ones—in your daily diet.
- Cook and sauté with olive oil, not butter; canola oil is good for baking
- Sprinkle a small handful of nuts, rather than cheese or bacon bits, on your salads (Tip: Chop the nuts to make them go further)
- Keep pre-portioned bags of nuts, rather than potato chips or crackers, for snacking at work or home
- Add slices of avocado instead of cheese, to your sandwich
- Eat wild-caught salmon, canned albacore tuna, or other fatty fish once or twice a week