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A guide to the types of fats you should be eating



Dear Annie, I'm confused as to what types of fats I should be eating.  Should I be eating any at all if I want to lose the fat on my body?  -- J

Dear J, Thank you for asking this question, I think this is a confusing subject for most of us.  First of all, YES you should be eating fats, whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 

No matter what your goals are, you still need to know what types of fats, and how much, you should be eating.  The USDA recommends that you get about 20-35% of your daily calories from fat.  This however does not grant you the right to eat 75 grams of fat from a pecan pie tonight.  The catch is that of the 20-35% of fat, less than 10% should come from saturated fats, and less than 1% should come from trans fats, making the other come from the "good" unsaturated fats.  Here is a breakdown of the types of fats:

Saturated and Trans Fats are the kinds you want the least of.  Unfortunately, if you grew up in America, they are probably the ones you've snuggled with the idea of eating for most of your life.  Remember I said we need to start a food revolution?  Well the first step is realizing that the fats we've grown so fond of are actually the ones that cause heart disease, which happens to be the #1 killer of women.  Not breast cancer, but heart disease.  As women we are reminded on billboards and emails and commercials to do our monthly self-checks, but not until recently have Americans been told, much less reminded, of the huge risks of our diets. 

Basically, saturated fats come from animal products such as red meat, cream, cheese (especially hard cheeses), and lard.  These are foods that in moderation are great for our health, in fact, our body has natural cholesterol and needs small bits of saturated fats.  But, try and save the Jess and Jim's loaded baked potato and 20 oz prime rib for special occasions; and I don't mean just because it's Tuesday.  Don't get me wrong, all you Kansas City people know I love Jess and Jim's, I'm just saying things of that nature should be taken in major moderation.  You can still eat saturated fats, just try and follow the USDA's advice and make them less than 10% of your daily calories.  Remember all animal meats are not full of saturated fats; healthy choices include chicken, turkey, buffalo, and goat.

Trans fats, on the other hand, are no joking matter.  These are the worst types of fats because they are manufactured, not found in nature.  Trans fats come from hydrogenated oils, margarine, fried foods, commercial baked goods, and many of the snacks sneakily labeled "low fat."  Trans fats in hydrogenated oils are created by machines converting vegetable oils to solids by adding hydrogen atoms.  Say what?  I'm pretty sure Grandma didn't do this to her corn bread when she lived on the farm, and if you really think about it, you don't want all these crazy man-made chemicals inside your body, begging to be digested.  Companies tried to "un-make" saturated fats by creating this "new" fat they thought would taste just as good while getting them more points on the "healthy" list.  However, once trans fats were studied in the early 90s, they realized the solid they created from vegetable oil acted just like butter inside the body.  Think of trying to wash butter off of your hands; now think about that residue blocking all sorts of healthy processes inside your poor body.  Point taken?  Read the labels when you shop because over 40% of all products found in your grocery store contain trans fats (look for hydrogenated oils).  That's why it's a good idea to shop on the perimeter where you will find fruits, veggies, whole grains, meats and dairy.

Let's turn your frown upside down by telling you all of the fats you can and should eat.  Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated make up the unsaturated fats category, consisting of the "good" fats.  Of course, remember to eat these in moderation also, but keep in mind when you do you will be gaining health benefits by eating the fats our bodies need.  Foods in this category contain the famous omega-3 fatty acids we've heard so much about.  Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil (yes we know, Five Guys, your fries are made with peanut oil!), and sunflower oil, among others are all healthy oils.  (Vegetable oil and shortening are NOT in this category.)  This category also contains most nuts and seeds (including flax seed), avocados, and oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. 

So where does the good stuff come in, like Twinkies and chocolate?  Well, Twinkies are out because they are not real food, and loaded with trans fats, but chocolate is great in moderation.  Especially if you choose the kind with the highest amount of cocoa (it comes from the ground) that you can find.  Cocoa actually contains a huge amount of antioxidants to help gobble up free radicals in your system associated with heart disease, according to The Journal of American Medical Association.  So healthy eating is not all bad, right?

Here are a few tips: saute in olive oil, cook with canola oil (to give you the flavors you're most used to); put avocado slices on your sandwich instead of cheese; use walnuts instead of croutons or sunflower seeds instead of bacon bits; eat a handful of nuts, not a handful of chips; replace red meat with oily fish and protein-rich seafood like tuna and shrimp twice a week; use vinegar and lemon juice as a salad dressing sub; and replace ground beef with ground turkey or chicken.  I speak from experience: if you don't tell, they'll never know (I have a saturated fat-loving husband!)


  • k 5 years ago

    thanks--that certainly cleared things up for me in the fat category...what a great article!!

  • Laura 5 years ago

    That was a great article! Very helpful!!

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