Are All Fats Created Equal?

When you hear the term “fat,” what comes to mind?  Does this word have a negative connotation? Do you think of all the foods you try to avoid?  Dietary fat generally gets a bad rap, so if you have these thoughts, you’re certainly not alone.  However, dietary fat is actually an important component of a healthy diet! In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 20-35% of our total calories come from fat.  As with most things, moderation and balance are key! There are a few different types of dietary fat, with some being healthier than others, so it is important to select healthy fats more often than unhealthy ones.  The types of fats include saturated fats, trans-fats, and unsaturated fats. Let’s talk a little bit about each! 

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and can be found in foods such as butter, lard, and high-fat dairy sources.  Eating an excess amount of saturated fats can raise our LDL, or bad cholesterol, and can lead to build-up in our arteries, which can increase our risk for cardiovascular diseases.  Because of this, we want to limit saturated fats in our diet to ≤10% of our total daily calories. 

Trans-fat is a manufactured form of fat that raises our LDL, or bad cholesterol, and lowers our HDL, or healthy cholesterol.  This increases our risk of cardiovascular diseases. Trans-fats are not good for our health and are actually no longer on the FDA’s “Generally Recognized As Safe” list, and should no longer be in our foods. 

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are our healthy fats!  Unlike saturated fats, these fats are generally liquid at room temperature and work to raise our HDL, which is our good cholesterol.  Adequate amounts of HDL actually work to remove cholesterol and plaque build-up in our arteries. Because of this, these fats are heart-healthy! There are two main types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.  Good sources of monounsaturated fats include avocado, nuts, nut butters, and plant-based oils, such as olive oil. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish such as salmon, seeds, walnuts, and eggs.  

At Operation Food Search, each Wednesday we have a “Wellness Wednesday” treat for our staff members.  The goal of these days is to provide education that allows us to focus on bettering our overall health. This week, staff members were able to learn about healthy fats and participated in a “build-your-own trail mix” activity. A healthy trail mix is a great snack that includes a lot of heart-healthy fats. Fats take longer for our body to digest, meaning they will keep you feeling full for longer, making trail mix a great energy boost for the workday!

So what does a healthy trail mix look like?  There are countless recipes available for a healthy trail mix, but generally, you want to include something of each of these categories:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Grains  

For our Wellness Wednesday trail mix, we offered the following:

  • Nuts: Peanuts
  • Seeds: Sunflower seeds & Roasted Pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruit: Raisins & Dried Mangos
  • Gains: Honey Nut Cheerios

Looking for more healthy snack ideas? Check out this article from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics! 

Written by: Emilie Baur, Illinois State Dietetic Intern

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