The Bare Facts about Fats: Good and Bad

Christina Dodd 

Healthful eating, for decades, has accepted eating a diet that is low in fat and low in cholesterol as one of the basic tenets. Proclaimed as a method of both losing weight as well as preventing and controlling heart disease along with other conditions, the diet of low cholesterol and low fat has been followed by millions of people to varying degrees of success.

The Bare Facts about Fats: Good and BadFood companies, viewing this trend as a terrific opportunity for marketing, re-engineered foods by the thousands to reduce their fat or make them free of fat. The approach of a low-fat diet, while occasionally making a difference for the rare individual, has not helped us as a nation to get our weight under control or raise the level of general health. Americans in the 1960s obtained roughly 45% of their caloric intake from fats and oils; less than 1% was afflicted with weight-related diabetes, or type 2; and the percentage of obese Americans was about 13 percent. The picture today, with Americans as a whole taking in a lower amount of fat – roughly 33% of the caloric intake consisting of oils and fats – reveals that those afflicted with diabetes, mostly of type 2, is 8%; and the amount of obese is 34%.

People who try hard to cut fats from their diets are left wondering at the lack of success. Surely it should have a greater impact according to conventional wisdom! But detailed research from Harvard and other reputed sources reveals that weight and disease are not really linked to the amount of fat, in total, in an individual’s diet. The significant factor is the variety of fat that figures in the diet. Saturated and trans fats, or bad fats, increase the susceptibility for several diseases. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, or good fats, have quite the opposite effect: they are positive for not only the heart alone but most other body parts as well.

Good Fats

What makes good fats good? They lower bad cholesterol, or LDL, along with total cholesterol, in the case of monounsaturated fats, at the same time as causing an increase in the good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol.

To make sure your body is receiving the full amount of monounsaturated fats it requires, make sure to include some of these items next time you visit a grocery store – their benefits are numerous:

  • Olive oil and olives: Along with their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits thanks to their amount of vitamin E and polyphenols, these are great for the waist as well as the heart.
  • Nuts: Macadamia nuts contain monounsaturated fats in highest amount, trailed by pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds. All are great for the heart thanks to their content of soluble fiber calories. Because they are filling they also make great healthy snacks. The oils contained in nuts may also stimulate fat loss, according to studies.
  • Avocados: A Brisbane, Australia study has shown that a daily inclusion of avocados in a diet for three weeks caused an improvement in middle-aged women’s blood cholesterol that was greater than the impact of a low-fat diet. Avocados led to an 8% total decrease compared to the 5% resulting from the low-fat diet. More relevantly, HDL cholesterol was improved by 15%. Smaller women found results with a daily avocado half, whereas larger women consumed as much as one and a half avocados daily. An additional outcome according to studies is cutting the heart attack risk in heart patients by 10 to 20 percent. Death rates also dropped four to eight percent in three to five years.
  • Dark chocolate: While chocolate lovers should avoid the temptation to seize this as an excuse for a good binge, the truth is that the inclusion of dark chocolate as one of your guilty pleasures can bring additional monounsaturated fats to your diet. Roughly a third of dark chocolate’s fat is monounsaturated. The flavonoids in this variety of chocolate are also beneficial in protecting cells from the damage from free radicals as well reducing blood pressure. When lingering over the candy aisle in your grocery store, choosing dark instead of white or milk chocolates may not be the healthiest diet choice, but it is definitely the healthier option.

Polyunsaturated fats are another dietary influence to lower cholesterol as a whole and LDL cholesterol specifically. Its essential fatty acids, including ogega-3as such as alpha-linoleic acid and omega-6s such as linoleic acid are a required part of our diets. A degree of this kind of fats in the diet can aid in preventing or controlling such conditions or ailments as heart disease, immune system deficiencies, cancer, obesity, and arthritis, as well as providing rich amounts of Vitamin E.

Plant-based foods frequently give us polyunsaturated fats. Oily fish are one of the best sources, while other good sources include walnuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and the oils of safflower and sunflower.

Bad Fats

More is known by the general public about saturated fats, which prove guilty for their contribution to heart disease and raising cholesterol levels overall. Animal-based foods tend to the highest sources of bad fats, including fatty meats such as pork, beef, and lamb; poultry that has not been skinned, processed meats including such lunch meats as hot dogs and bologna and breakfast meats such as sausages and bacon; milk, both 2 percent and whole; cheese; and butter and lard.

Plant sources do exist for saturated fat, with such guilty contenders as palm oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, and coconut oil.