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Fuel up with good fats for an extraordinary life
Understanding good fats vs. bad fats
The word “fat” gets a bad rap. The truth is, we need some fat in our diet to perform at our optimum level. To fuel for peak performance, you first need to understand what are good fats and bad fats.
Good fats are heart-healthy and a great source of energy. They are a key part of any sustainable healthy diet. And the “bad fats”? Those are the ones we need to stay away from, also known as saturated or trans fats. The first step to developing a healthy diet is to understand the science differentiating good fats vs bad fats.
What are good and bad fats?
The key to eating a healthy diet is to really understand the nutritional make-up of our foods. You need to understand how we determine good fats vs bad fats. If you want to add more “good” fats or stay away from “bad” fats, you need to know what they are and how they affect your body.
Good fats will support your body and brain functions. They also work to keep certain illnesses, like diabetes, away. They exist naturally in whole foods and plants. Bad fats don’t exist naturally. They are modified food sources designed to be more shelf-stable. They have no nutritional value and add to our cholesterol levels. Bad fats can also lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or other life-threatening ailments.
What are good fats?
There are two types of good fats: polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid) and monounsaturated fat (omega-9 fatty acid). These two types of fats are essential to sustain a healthy life. Your brain and body cannot perform at an optimal level without these two types of fats.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids support healthy brain and heart function. They have been known to reduce symptoms of ADHD and depression as well as protect against dementia and memory loss. These good fats also support our joints, bones and skin, as well as decrease fatigue and improve memory.
Because our body cannot produce these ingredients on its own, we need to consume them in our diets. To increase your intake of these good fats, eat more plant-based foods such as flaxseed oil or walnuts or certain types of seafood and fish.
Omega-9 fatty acids also support the heart, but what makes them essential is their ability to improve the absorption of vitamins and prevent illnesses such as diabetes and strokes. This type of good fats are found in whole foods and oils such as sunflower or olive oil.
Is saturated fat good or bad?
Saturated fat, along with trans fat, are what we consider “bad fats”. Avoid these two types of fats to keep your diet as healthy as possible. If you really don’t want to cut them out completely, only consume them in strict moderation.
Saturated fats come from animal products, such as meat, chicken, eggs and dairy, including cheese and milk. Certain oils, such as palm and coconut oil, also contain saturated fat.
Trans fats are most often found in a lot of processed meat and foods. They do not occur naturally. Rather, they happen through a process called hydrogenation, or when oils get turned into solid fats. A good keyword to look for when reviewing your food’s nutritional facts is “hydrogenated oil.” Hydrogenated oils are trans fats.
Both trans and saturated fats have absolutely no nutritional value. They increase your cholesterol and negatively impact the body. Think of them as the toxins they are and avoid them whenever possible.
Examples of good and bad fats
It is possible to replace bad fats with good ones. You just need to know specifically what are good and bad fats. Examples of food and ingredients that contain good fats include:
- Legumes (beans and peas)
- Nut oils and butters
- Vegetable oils, including corn, sunflower, and safflower oils
- Seeds, including sesame and sunflower seeds
- Seafood, including salmon, sardines and herring
To stay healthy, you need to minimize from bad fats, such as:
- Fried foods
- Vegetable shortening
- Packaged snack foods, including crackers and chips
- Pre-packaged baked goods, including pastries, cookies, muffins and cake
- Red meat
- Ice cream
- Whole-fat dairy products, including milk, cream and cheese
- Tropical oils, including coconut and palm oil
See a lot of delicious food on this list? The good news is that you don’t have to cut it out of your diet completely. It is still okay to enjoy bad fats on occasion. The key is to not make these bad fats a main part of your diet.
You can also work on replacing bad fats with good ones. A study done in 2015 revealed that replacing saturated fat, or bad fat, with polyunsaturated fat, or good fat, had a significant effect on reducing the risk of heart disease.
A 2017 British Journal of Sports Medicine article also reported that the risks of bad fats’ effect on heart health may have been overstated. While this does not mean that you need to go out and eat a ton of bad fat, it does mean that you can occasionally enjoy a treat without worrying that you’re ruining your health.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to good fats vs bad fats is that some fat is necessary. Even bad fats can sometimes be enjoyed in moderation. Good fats are necessary to improve your brain and body function, and will help you live longer. If you prioritize a diet rich in good fats, you can occasionally consume food with bad fats as long as you are mindful and moderate.
Now that you’re equipped with some examples of good and bad fats, you’ll know which types of fats will help your brain and body function – and which types of fats are better left on your plate.