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Figuring Out Fats

“Good” Fats: Choose these.

  • Unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.  These fats are considered better quality (and better for us) because they help raise our HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and help lower our LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).  TIP: unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature!

Monounsaturated: olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds
Polyunsaturated: vegetable oils (i.e. safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oil), nuts and seeds.

  • Omega-3 Fats. Omega 3-fatty acids are ESSENTIAL fats which means that our body cannot produce them so it is essential that we get them from food.  They help control blood clotting, promote normal brain function, improve our immune response, and have a protective effect against heart disease.  There are 3 kinds of omega-3 fats (ALA, EPA, DHA) and it is recommended to eat foods that contain each type.

ALA: vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower, olive, flax), walnuts, some green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach)
EPA and DHA: fish (the best sources are fatty, cold water fish like sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, herring, halibut, mackerel, and lake trout)

“Bad” Fats: Limit/avoid these.

  • Cholesterol. Cholesterol in our diets is very similar to the cholesterol circulating in our blood and our bodies use it to make hormones and bile.  Cholesterol from food should be limited because our bodies are able to make as much as we need and are not able to excrete excess.  To prevent the accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessels, limit the cholesterol you consume to 300mg/day or less, but the American Heart Association suggests reducing it to 200 mg/day or less.

Foods: animal meats, poultry, organ meats (such as liver), dairy, eggs (and products made with eggs like baked goods), and fish (*even though fish contains cholesterol, it contains less than meat).

  • Saturated fats. Saturated fats come from both animal and plant sources, but are more commonly found in foods from animals.  Consuming a diet that derives 7% or less of the total calories from saturated fat is characteristic of a heart healthy diet and will decrease your risk of heart disease.  TIP: saturated fats are solid at room temperature.

Foods: Whole milk, cream (products made with cream like some creamy pasta sauces/soups), ice cream, whole milk cheese, butter, lard, meats, and some plant oils like coconut or palm.

  • Trans fats. Trans fats are created when vegetable oils are hydrogenated (basically, it’s the process of bombarding vegetable oils with hydrogen atoms to saturate it), resulting in partially hydrogenated oil. For baked goods, this process is advantageous because trans fats provide a desirable texture and help maintain freshness in baked or fried foods.  However, trans fats are the worst of all fats because they raise LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and lower HDL (the “good” cholesterol).

*There are some trans fats found in meats but they do not produce the same negative effects as the partially hydrogenated oils.

Foods:  baked goods (such as cookies, crackers, and cakes), fried foods (such as doughnuts, French fries, and onion rings), shortening, and margarine.

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