Fat is vital to your overall health
One of my favourite ways to teach healthy eating strategies is to break foods into their three macronutrient groups: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Proteins can be thought of as the materials for building lean muscle tissue while carbohydrates are the body’s prime source of energy. Fat also plays an important role in human nutrition worth examining. It is needed for brain function and cell growth and even plays a role in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
Like “good” and “bad” protein and carbohydrate choices, there are fats we should eat often and others we should be eating infrequently, if ever. The fats we consider to be healthy are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. They are found in fish, plants, nuts, seeds and eggs. Besides providing support for brain and cell growth, they help to reduce the kind of cholesterol that clogs arteries and may have an effect on blood sugar, insulin levels and diabetes.
The “unhealthy” fats to be avoided are listed on nutrition labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” They are called “trans fats” and are considered to have no benefit to human health. They lower the good cholesterol in blood vessels while increasing the bad, creating a higher risk of stroke and heart disease and are associated with a higher diabetes risk. These fats are artificially produced and appear mostly in packaged snack foods including pastries, frozen pizza, doughnuts, cookies, crackers and stick margarines.
Saturated fats (animal fats that are solid at room temperature) have traditionally been lumped in with the bad fat group, although current research has been questioning the idea that eating them actually leads to disease. According to The Lancet (a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal), a healthy diet can include animal fats and that moderation is the most important consideration when choosing what to eat with all food groups.
With an understanding of the benefits found in regularly consuming heart-healthy, naturally occurring fats, it becomes easier to make more informed choices when planning meals and snacks.
Here are six foods to eat frequently to add better fat to your daily diet.
1. Avocado. Try eating avocado several times per week. Not only do they taste great, they can replace less healthy fats in a variety of ways. My favourite is to spread about 1/5 of an avocado on a sandwich to replace mayonnaise or butter. Also, diced into a salad or onto your chili tastes fantastic.
2. Nuts. Use walnuts, almonds and pecans chopped and added to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal. They also can make a mixed salad a lot more interesting when used in place of croutons. Have about a ¼ cup daily.
3. Olives and olive oil. Snack on 5 to 10 olives a few times per week (I like to have them as a side to my sandwich at lunch with some baby carrots) or use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for cooking or when making salad dressing.
4. Fish. Cold water fish like salmon and tuna are high in the type of fat known to boost heart health. Eat about 12 ounces spread over two meals per week. You can choose fresh or canned. In my home, we love mixing in the canned varieties with garden salad, some shredded cheese and olive oil/ balsamic vinegar dressing.
5. Seeds. Chia, sunflower or flax. Choose one or all three to use as a topping for yogurt, cereal or even on a mixed salad. A serving of 1 to 2 tablespoons would be perfect. (Ground flaxseed is a better choice than whole seeds.)
6. Eggs. A great source of protein, eggs are versatile and packed with nutrients. They may contain 5 grams of fat, but only a small amount is saturated fat. Enjoy them a few times per week for breakfast or hard boiled as an “on the run” snack.
Cutting fat completely from your diet should not be your goal if you want to be healthier. A better strategy is to make substitutions for the fats you consume with healthier ones as often as possible.
Eat everything in moderation, with the exception of trans fats, which should be avoided whenever possible.