The Skinny on Types of Fats
The Good Fats
Monounsaturated fat: The fat of choice for heart health helps lower total cholesterol levels and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, and raises HDL, or "good" cholesterol. Foods that are rich in monos include avocados, most nuts and nut oils, olive oil, and canola oil.
Polyunsaturated fat: It lowers total cholesterol. Vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oil are rich in polyunsaturated fats. Fatty fish, such as salmon, are a rich source of a heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids.
The Bad Fats
Saturated fat: It raises blood cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart disease. A good rule of thumb is to limit saturated fat to less than one-third of your daily fat intake. Foods rich in saturates include butter, full-fat dairy products, red meats, and two vegetable products–palm kernel oil and coconut.
Trans fat: Are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, converting it from a liquid to a solid (like corn oil margarine). Trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated oils (and in many stick margarines), and gives cookies, chips, and crackers a long shelf life. The National Academy of Sciences concluded that trans fats raise blood cholesterol levels, and probably more so than saturated fat. The simple solution is to avoid them altogether.
Here's how to avoid trans fat products:
- Look for the words partially hydrogenated on the label. This is where trans fats are found.
- Watch your intake of processed foods. Many are made with partially hydrogenated oils because these oils are shelf stable. Frozen apple pie, doughnuts, crackers, and cookies top the list, according to Consumer Reports. (Surprisingly, potato chips, peanut butter, and salad dressings were virtually free of trans fats.)
- Use butter and oil in place of margarine (which is high in trans fats). They taste better, and for now, they appear to be better for you.
- Focus on natural foodsâ€”ones with ingredient lists you can understand (or better yet, whole foods, like raisins, nuts, and fresh fruit, with no ingredient list at all).