Fats: How to Make Healthy Choices

Did you know that fat is an important part of our diet? Our bodies actually need fat to survive! In fact, at a minimum, we should be getting 10% of our daily calories from fat. According to the USDA, a healthy adult’s daily fat intake should be 25-30% of their daily calories.

But not all fats are equally healthy. So, what kind do we need? What kind should we limit or try to avoid?

Here are the basics:

Unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease, when eaten in moderation. Fats have nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram for proteins and carbohydrates. This means that a little bit goes a long way! There are two types of unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. These healthy fats are mostly found in vegetable oils and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, catfish, and mackerel, as well as flaxseed and walnuts. Other sources of healthy fats include:

  • Pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
  • Almonds, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil

Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats can raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Sources of saturated fat include fatty cuts of red meat, poultry skin, pork, high-fat dairy products like butter, cheese, and milk made from whole or reduced fat (2% or 1%) milk. Saturated fat can also be found in certain vegetable fats that are solid at room temperature, such as coconut oil and lard. Remember that baked goods and fried foods can contain high levels of saturated fats.

How to Make Healthy Choices:

A great way to make healthier choices when it comes to fats is to read your nutrition labels. On the nutrition facts panel, you'll find all the information you need to make healthful choices. Look for foods that are low in total fat, and especially low in saturated and trans fats. Keep in mind that a product with a label boasting it is "trans-fat free" can actually have up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Choose a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Once a week, try a vegetarian meal.
  • Select dairy products that are skim or fat free.
  • Experiment with making your own salad dressings using unsaturated oils, your favorite vinegar, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  • Try cooking with unsaturated liquid oils, such as canola or olive, instead of butter, lard, or margarine.
  • Limit your consumption of high-fat foods, processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and desserts.

Remember that reducing or eliminating saturated fats is just one piece of the puzzle. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fewer calories for better overall health. And don’t forget to visit the YMCA of Central Florida website for delicious and tasty healthy recipes.

By: Gary Appelsies MS, CHHC, AADP
Director of Healthy Eating