Fats: The good, the bad and the ugly

Saturated, unsaturated, trans and others. Knowing what they are and what they do can keep you healthier.

Americans have a sweet tooth and with that we also have a “fat” tooth. We love our hamburgers, fries, juicy steaks, cheeses, butter and snacks! As a nation, we get close to 40 percent of our calories from fat, while the American Heart Association recommends that it should only be 30 percent or less to better fight our number one leading killer – heart disease. We can change our taste buds to actually prefer foods that are less greasy and fatty. Michigan State University Extension encourages trading bad fats for good oils which can improve our health, which includes our energy and the way we feel.

A healthy diet, like every other health related goal, has to do with making goals to keep in balance. Understanding the different types of fats is important. Our body needs fats every day to help regulate body temperature, protect our bones, organs and nerves. Fats help develop a variety of other building blocks needed for everything from hormones to immune function. If we need fats, which ones are best is the question you should be asking.

The “good fats” are the unsaturated and omega-3 fats. These fats come from plants and fish. Nuts, flaxseed, olive oil, canola oil and avocados are good sources. Unsaturated fats are beneficial in lowering your risk of heart disease, depression and inflammation. These “good fats” also have been known to increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels and decrease ‘bad” LDL cholesterol levels. It is recommended that we eat fish twice per week to obtain enough omega-3 fat that fish obtains. The three fish that top the list for being high in omega-3 fats are salmon, lake trout and sardines. Due to concerns about mercury level contaminants, avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and limit albacore tuna and light tuna.

The “bad fats” are saturated fats. These fats derive mostly from animals. Hamburger, baloney, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, whole milk, two percent milk, cheese and products made from palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and fully hydrogenated oils. Calories from saturated fats should be kept below 10 percent of your total daily calories. Hydrogenated oils are oils that have had hydrogen added to them to make them less likely to spoil.

The difference between partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated fats is that the partial hydrogenation creates trans-fats, while fully hydrogenated, the oil returns to a “zero trans-fat” level. Fully hydrogenated fats are sometimes listed as “interesterified oils” on ingredient labels. Fully hydrogenation creates a very hard fat that manufactures mix with oils to soften them up.

The “ugly fats” are trans-fats. These fats are partially hydrogenated, meaning they are laboratory altered fats. Trans-fats are found in margarines, shortenings, cakes, pies, deep-fried foods that are prepared with these fats. These fats are ugly because they raise our bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated packaging labeling for trans-fats back in 2006, which helped start more research and critical thinking about personal nutrition by consumers.