Weighing in on the good and bad: Some fats are healthier than others

  • Published
  • By Stuart Bapties
  • Health and Wellness Center Flight commander
The holidays will be here much quicker than you think.

More than likely, you'll be surrounded by family, friends and plenty of good food.

Much of that food can be high in fat, and learning which fats are naughty and which are nice to your health can empower you to make smarter food choices.

First, let's debunk the myth that fat is just bad for you.

We need a certain amount of fat in our diets to stay healthy. It provides energy in the form of calories and helps the body absorb important fat-soluble vitamins - including A, D, E and K.

Fats also make food taste better and help us feel full. They're especially important for infants and toddlers because dietary fat contributes to proper growth and development.
But problems arise if we eat too much fat since dietary fats have more than twice the calories per gram as proteins or carbohydrates. 

Excess calories can pack on the pounds and raise the risk for diabetes, cancer and other conditions. 

Some fats are better than others, and we should aim to eat the right types. 

Foods can contain a mixture of fats.

Unsaturated fats are considered good fats and are sometimes listed as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat on Nutrition Facts labels. 

They can promote health if eaten in the right amounts, and they are generally liquid at room temperature - they're known as oils. 

You'll find healthy unsaturated fats in fish, nuts and most vegetable oils - including canola, corn, olive and safflower oils. 

Bad fats are saturated fats and trans fats which tend to be solid at room temperature. That includes butter, meat fats, stick margarine, shortening, coconut and palm oils. 

They're found in chocolates, baked goods, deep-fried or processed foods. 

When we eat too many solid fats, we put our bodies at risk. 

They tend to raise total blood cholesterol, and the part of cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. 

When those cholesterol levels are out of whack and too high, it's a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. 

When there's too much cholesterol in the blood, the excess can get trapped in artery walls and build up. 

The resulting buildup can develop into atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries - which can lead to coronary heart disease."

National Institute of Health experts say the total fat intake for adults ages 19 and older should be 20 to 35 percent of daily calories. For children ages 4 to 18, it should be 25 to 35 percent. 

Experts say you should get less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fatty acids. 

NIH-funded studies show that replacing solid fats in your diet with healthful unsaturated fats can have a positive impact. 

Using unsaturated fats in place of some of the saturated fats actually lowers total cholesterol levels - mainly LDL cholesterol levels.  

Eating healthy fats and less total fat can be challenging during the holidays. 

You shouldn't think of the holidays as a time to deprive yourself, but you can cut fat simply by reducing your portions.  

You can also choose lean meats, like skinless poultry. You can also eat more fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods. 

When prepping recipes, try using lower-fat ingredients like low-fat and fat-free yogurt and milk which contain the important proteins and minerals found in full-fat versions.  

The holidays are right around the corner, and you should use any down time to recharge your batteries. 

If you over-indulge a bit, don't beat yourself up about it. Try to get out and walk off some of the calories, but be sure the next day you go back to following a healthy meal plan.

What to know:
For more on healthy holiday eating tips call the Health and Wellness Center at 478-497-8480 to sign up for our Healthy Holiday Eating Class on Oct. 27  from 11 a.m. to noon.