Editor's Note: In observance of National Nutrition Month, dietitians from Anderson Regional Medical Center and Rush Foundation Hospital will write weekly columns about healthy eating. The following column is by Halee Heath RD,LD, who is with Rush
It is a common misconception that fat is “bad” and aids in many of the common chronic illnesses plaguing Americans today. A stroll down any grocery store aisle will confirm America’s obsession with “low-fat” or “reduced fat” foods. We are bombarded with supposedly guilt-free options such as fat free ice cream, baked potato chips, low-fat/sugar free candies, cookies and cakes.
But while our low-fat options have increased, so has the rate of obesity. The truth of the matter is, the type of fat you consume is what ultimately plays detriment to your health. The habit of learning how to make healthy choices and replacing bad fats with good ones is the way to promote overall health and well being.
So, what is a good fat, and what is a bad fat? Good fats are classified as unsaturated fats. These fats promote overall heart health and help to control cholesterol. When reading a food label, “good” fats may be categorized as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. These fats are visible to the eye as being liquid at room temperature. Examples of “good” fats include, but are not exclusive to, olive oil, avocados, almonds, fatty fish (tuna, salmon, trout), soymilk and sunflower seeds.
Bad fats appear solid at room temperature and are labeled as saturated fats and/or trans fats. These fats increase the risk of heart disease and elevate cholesterol if consumed in excess. Common examples of “bad “ fats include: fried foods, lard, butter, whole fat dairy products, coconut/palm oil, packaged snack foods and commercially baked foods.
How much fat is too much fat? The USDA recommends that caloric fat intake should be an average of 20-35 percent per day of calories consumed. Also, saturated fats should be less than 10 percent of calories consumed per day (200 calories per day based on 2,000 calorie diet). Lastly, limit trans fats to 1 percent of calories consumed per day (2 grams of fat per 2,000 calories).
Now that the basics of fat have been established, the key is not to choose a “no fat” diet. The key is to choose a “good fat” diet! There are many ways to incorporate good fats into your diet without giving up the foods you love. Here are some cooking ideas to increase the amount of good fats into your diet;
• Cook with heart healthy oils. Use olive oil for stovetop cooking instead of butter, stick margarine, or lard. When baking foods, reach for canola oil.
• Eat more avocados. Try them in sandwiches or on salads or make guacamole. They are loaded with heart and brain-healthy fats, and they make for a filling and satisfying meal.
• Reach for nuts. Snack on them, or incorporate them into your meal. You can add nuts to vegetable dishes or use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish.
• Snack on olives. Olives are high in healthy monounsaturated fats. But unlike most other high-fat foods, they make for a low-calorie snack when eaten on their own.