Fats have received a bad wrap for many years, but how bad are they really? Dietitians hear all the time about how butter tastes better and margarine is really bad for you because it is almost plastic. Then people hear that fish oils are really good for them and end up starting to take the pills without really knowing why. What are good and bad fats? How can we choose which ones to consume and why we should stay away from others? Today’s article will discuss exactly that.
As the baby boomers start to retire and get older, they are told to watch their fat intake, switch to margarine and other healthy fats, and work their way down to skim milk rather than whole. Why do all this and is it really important? The simple answer is that it is important to watch the types of fats and to not eat too much; the real answer to discuss is not so simple.
There are two basic types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is that which is known to contribute to cholesterol and plaque build up in our arteries. Unsaturated fats are known to actually help reduce plaque build up and improve our cholesterol. Saturated fats, such as that found in butter, milk, cheese, bacon, and tons of other products, are known to be bad for our health, yet they can be important as well.
Saturated fats should be limited to approximately 10 percent of our daily calories with total fat limited to approximately 30 percent of our daily calorie needs. Depending on the types of activity and exercise people plan on doing, this need could be more. As a general rule of thumb, unsaturated fats would not necessarily need to be limited as long as total daily caloric needs are not surpassed. What is the good side of saturated fats? Some fats are necessary for our body to operate effectively. There is also a third fat, but this one needs to be eliminated from our diet as much as possible.
Trans fats are those that are, for the most part, man made. Several states have banned them from being used due to their nature of causing bad cholesterol to sky rocket and our good cholesterol to actually plummet! Where are they and what are they? Trans fats are made when extra hydrogen atoms are added to unsaturated fats and a chemical structure is created in such a way that is not very common in foods we eat. Meat and dairy products have trace amounts of trans fats, but the major source is anything with “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients list. Margarines used to be partially hydrogenated, but they are mostly made up of oil and water now. Look for shelf stable meats and fast food places for these bad trans fats…at least until they get banned from foods all together!
So what is the basic point of this article? Trans fats are very bad and we need to avoid them at all costs. Saturated fats will raise your cholesterol and should be minimized to only 10 percent of our daily caloric intake. Unsaturated fats are very healthy and can actually lower our bad cholesterol while raising our good cholesterol; as long as our overall caloric intake is not exceeded, these good fats would not need to be limited.
With fats getting covered today, the food groups have now been covered. If you missed out on the other groups, look back to the previous articles for more information. Over the next few articles we will look into specific types of exercise plans and how to best eat for optimal nutrition and performance.