What Types of Fats are Good and How Much is Safe

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More often than not people are confused by the information they receive on fats. In one case they are told fats are good for them, in another fats are bad. For many it's difficult finding what types of fats are good and how much is safe. I've put together some pointers to help you take the guesswork out of choosing the good fats.

In general, fats are good for the body. They maintain cell membrane, help the body to absorb nutrients and nerve transmission, but fats come in different types and they affect the body in differently ways. If you eat the wrong type of fats, over time, it will lead to weight gain, stroke, heart disease and some types of cancer.

Fats are broadly broken into two groups: good fats and bad fats.

Among the good fats are monounsaturated fats. They are simple fats with one double-bonded carbon in their molecule. Typically liquid at room temperature and do not turn solid when chilled. Eaten in moderate quantity, monounsaturated fats lower LDL, the bad cholesterol and lower the risk of stroke and heart disease, while increasing HDL, the good cholesterol. They are also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin.

Foods high in monounsaturated fats include, vegetable oils like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower and sesame oils. Other sources are, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds. Also included among the good fats are polyunsaturated fats.

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are simple fats with a single double-bonded carbon in their molecule. They are usually liquid at room temperature and do not turn solid when chilled. In addition to lowering LDL cholesterol levels, they contain essential fats that the body needs but cannot produce itself such as, Omega-6 and Omega-3, which play a major role in the function of the brain and normal body growth.

Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include, soybean oil, corn and safflower oil; fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout. Other sources are, nuts, seeds and sunflower seeds. The American Heart Association recommends your total fats intake should not exceed 25 - 35% of total daily calories, and the majority should be mono and polyunsaturated fats. On the other hand, included on the list of bad fats are saturated fats.

Saturated fats carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. They turn solid at room temperature. Eating foods with saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. They also increase your weight and risk of heart disease and stroke.

Foods high in saturated fats include, fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter and cheese. Other sources are, baked and fried foods, palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. The American Heart Association recommends your saturated fats intake should not exceed 7% of total daily calories. Also included in the bad fats are, trans fats or trans fatty acids.

Trans fats are man-made by adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them solid. They are inexpensive to produce, provide better shelf life, and can be used many times in commercial deep-fryers. Another fancy name for trans fats is "partially hydrogenated oils." Check for them on processed food labels. Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels. They increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Foods high in trans fats include, French fries, doughnuts, baked foods like pastries, pie crusts, cookies, microwave popcorn, stick margarine and shortenings. The American heart Association recommends your trans fats intake should not exceed 1% of total daily calories. For example, if your total daily calories is 2,000 no more than 20 calories should come from trans fats.

Some dietary experts argue that saturated and trans fats are not in themselves harmful to the body if eaten in moderation, and kept within your total allowable daily calories. The counter argument is that if there are alternatives in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can provide the body all the fats it needs without the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, why risk your health on eating saturated and trans fats. In the end the choice is yours to make, but first consult your doctor.

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