Weekly Wellness: Not all fats are bad

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Columbia - FAT. Most people think of this as a bad word, right? When we are reading labels at the grocery store, we are looking for those key words "low-fat" and "fat-free", right? What a lot of people don't realize is that there is good fat and bad fat. In other words, not all fats are bad.

The phrase “healthy fat” usually refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Healthy fats help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. Some research shows that healthy fats can also help insulin and blood sugar levels (decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes).

Monounsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and are full of healthy nutrients. Polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fats our bodies need for brain function and cell growth. Omega-3s (found in fish, nuts and seeds) are beneficial for heart health. Omega-6s can be found in certain plant-based oils. Omega-6s work with omega-3s to lower LDL cholesterol, but don't go crazy with it. Some research shows that eating more omega-6 than -3 may contribute to inflammation and weight gain.

So what are the bad fats then? Good rule of thumb: always avoid TRANS fats. How can you spot them? If you see the words "partially hydrogenated oils,” step away from the product. Most trans fats are artificial and raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke, and are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

What about saturate fat? The USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead.

Need a grocery list of the best fats to buy? Here ya go!

1. AVOCADOS: One medium avocado has approximately 23 grams of fat, but it is primarily monounsaturated fat. Plus, a medium avocado contains 40 percent of your daily fiber needs, is naturally sodium- and cholesterol-free, and is a good source of lutein, an antioxidant that may protect your vision.

2. WALNUTS: Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha linoleic acid, an omega-3 found in plants. A recent study linked a handful per day to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as improved blood vessel function. Research has also shown that eating nuts appears to reduce the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and improve the health of the lining of our arteries.

3. OTHER NUTS: Nuts like pecans, pistachios, cashews, and almonds also pack a lot of healthy fats. Almonds are the richest in vitamin E, and pistachios have lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids important for eye health. One 1/4 cup serving per day is all you need. Some varieties are fattier than others, so pay close attention to serving sizes.

4. NUT AND SEED BUTTERS: Almond butter and cashew butter and sunflower seed butter - oh my! You can look to any of these butters for a plant-based dose of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

5. OLIVES: One cup of black olives has 15 grams of mainly monounsaturated fat (along with other nutrients like hydroxytyrosol that has been linked to cancer prevention). And, in case you needed

another reason to snack on olives, research suggests that olive extracts function as anti-histamines on the cellular level.

6. OLIVE OIL: Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats. But be mindful of your use - one tablespoon has 14 grams of fat.

7. GROUND FLAXSEED: One cup of ground flaxseed has 48 grams of healthy, unsaturated fat. Flaxseed is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, too. Flaxseed also contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, so it can help you feel fuller longer as well as reduce cholesterol and promote heart health.

8. SALMON: Oily fish like salmon (and sardines, mackerel, and trout) are full of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings weekly to get the best benefits.

9. TUNA: Tuna contains both healthy fats and omega-3s. Like salmon, you should limit your intake to about 12 ounces (two meals) a week to avoid overexposure to things like mercury that can be found in small amounts in seafood.

10. DARK CHOCOLATE: One ounce (about 3 fingers’ worth) of dark chocolate counts as one serving and contains about 9 grams of fat. About half of its fat content is saturated, but it also contains healthy fats and numerous other healthy nutrients—vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants).

11. TOFU: Tofu can be a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. A 3-ounce portion of super firm tofu contains 5 to 6 grams of fat and about 1 gram of saturated fat. It’s a plant-based protein that is low in sodium and provides nearly a quarter of your daily calcium needs.

12. EDAMAME: Soybeans contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and protein and fiber! Win win win win!

13. SUNFLOWER SEEDS: A small handful of sunflower seeds give you a dose of healthy fats, protein, and fiber.

14. CHIA SEEDS: Chia seeds contain omega-3s, fiber, protein, essential minerals, and antioxidants.

15. EGGS: One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat, but only 1.5 grams are saturated. Whole eggs are also a good source of choline (an important B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system).

There are some foods that are higher in saturated fat but can still be part of a healthy diet. It's just important to eat them more sparingly than the foods listed above. They are:

16. Lean grass-fed beef and pork

17. Full-fat milk

18. Full-fat yogurt

19. Parmesan cheese

So grab this list when you're heading to the grocery store and load up on some new GOOD fats!

(Source: http://blog.myfitnesspal.com/19-sources-of-healthy-fats-you-should-be-eating/)