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Is Consuming Fat in your Meals Unhealthy? The Answer: It’s Complicated.

February is American Heart Month and a lot of attention is placed on reducing our fat intake to improve our heart health. But….are all fats considered equal? Aren’t there “good fats” and “bad fats”?

You’re right, sort of. All fats are not the same. Without getting too sciencey, there are 4 types we consume.

· Saturated fat

· Monounsaturated fat

· Polyunsaturated fat and

· Trans fat

Let’s take a look at each one.

Saturated fat includes butter, shortening (animal fat), coconut oil and cocoa butter. These fats are saturated because their hydrogen chains are filled so they take on the form of a solid at room temperature. Saturated fat that is consumed in excess (more than 10% of your daily calories or about 180-230 calories) can increase the LDL bad cholesterol. This can lead to clogged arteries, resulting in cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.

Monounsaturated fat includes olive oil, peanut oil, avocado, seeds and nuts. These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature because their hydrogen chains are not filled or saturated. They help to lower your LDL cholesterol and reduces your risk of heart disease and also help to maintain your cells. Monounsaturated fats should make up about 25-30% of your diet.

Polyunsaturated fat includes other liquid fats such as corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. Poly means many, so these fats contain may unfilled hydrogen chains. Like monounsaturated, these are healthy as long as you use them within limits which means limiting your consumption of fried foods that are soaked in liquid oils which would push you beyond the 25-30% your body needs.

Trans fat are the real offenders. Trans fats are polyunsaturated fats that are artificially turned into full hydrogen chain saturated fats. They are created in labs to keep those potato chips from going stale and allow those Twinkies to last for (gasp!) years!! Trans fats are also in margarine, frostings, non-dairy creamer and many processed foods. There is also a good chance the fried foods you get from the fast food restaurant were cooked in trans fats.

What makes this fat so bad for us? The human body doesn’t bode well with trans fat, it simply isn’t equipped to break them down so guess where they end up? Yup, clogging up our arteries. And not only do they increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but they are also linked to breast and colon cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Where does this leave us? It means we have to examine our nutritional labels to see what types of fat are listed in the ingredients. Look out for food labels that say “No Trans Fat”. This doesn’t mean you have to pass up on that slice of birthday cake. Just keep your intake of trans fat to a minimum and also limit your saturated fats to the daily allowance.

Remember, no food in itself is “bad”. We just have to be mindful that there are some foods we have to eat enjoy sparingly and that’s ok. So, pass up the regular size muffin and go for the mini-one with a few almonds to satisfy you. Your heart will thank you for it.

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