The Skinny on Fat: Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
How fats fit into your healthy diet.
Does Dietary Fat Make You Fat? continued...
"Choosing the right types of dietary fats to consume is one of the most
important factors in reducing the risk of developing heart disease," says
Tufts University researcher Alice Lichtenstein. DSc.
But while choosing healthier fats is better for your heart, when it comes to
your waistline, all fats have about the same number of calories. And
cutting the total fat in your diet not only helps you shed pounds, it can also
help you live longer and healthier.
"There is a strong association between being overweight and many types
of cancer, especially breast cancer among postmenopausal women, and colon cancer," says Colleen
Doyle, MS, RD, nutrition and physical activity
director for the American Cancer Society.
"Eating less total fat will not directly lower your cancer risk, but it
will help you control your weight -- which in turn can reduce your risk of
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
Basically, there are two groups of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Within
each group are several more types of fats.
Let's start with the good guys -- the unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats
include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Both mono- and
polyunsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated or
trans fats, can help lower cholesterol levels and
reduce your risk of heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats, found mostly in vegetable oils, help lower both blood
cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels -- especially when you substitute
them for saturated fats. One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty
acids, whose potential heart-health benefits have gotten a lot of
Omega-3s are found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), as well
as flaxseed and walnuts. And it's fish that contains the most effective,
"long-chain" type of omega-3s. The American Heart Association
recommends eating 2 servings of fatty fish each week.
"Plant sources are a good substitute for saturated or trans fats, but
they are not as effective as fatty fish in decreasing cardiovascular
disease," notes Lichtenstein. Do keep in mind that your twice-weekly fish
should not be deep-fat fried!
It is best to get your omega-3s from food, not supplements, Lichtenstein
says: "Except for people with established heart disease, there is no data
to suggest omega-3 supplements will decrease heart disease risk."