Image of avocados, nuts, and fish, representing foods that contain healthy fats.

The good, the bad, the misunderstood: What you need to know about fats

Some say that laughter is the best medicine. This could be true, although we’re still waiting to see conclusive evidence either way. But if laughter is the best medicine, then a balanced diet is definitely a close second, as good nutrition helps the body stay as healthy as possible.

Healthy and non healthy fats

Eating a balanced diet includes eating some healthy fats. Yes, you read that right. Fats! That are healthy! But not all fats are created equal, and some are much better for you than other types of fat. Here are a few things you should know about what makes a fat good or bad for you, as well as which to eat and which to avoid.

Fat: The good

Healthy fats are good for our hearts. Think of healthy fats as pieces of armor that protect your precious ticker. Certain fats also give our bodies energy, help with cell growth, protect other organs, keep us warm, and assist with hormone production. Some vitamins can’t dissolve in the body without good fats. There’s no question about it: our bodies need fat.

Fat: The bad

There’s also no denying that fats are notoriously high in calories. It’s important to be aware of how much fat you’re getting through your diet, because gaining excess weight can have a negative impact on your health (and fertility, if you’re TTC). Of course, there’s also the issue with certain fats having unhealthy properties. By monitoring your intake of good fats, and by avoiding unhealthy fats, you can ensure that your consumption is beneficial for your body and for your overall health.

Healthy fats to focus on

According to the American Heart Association, healthy fats tend to be liquid at room temperature due to their chemical structure. Some of the ones that are considered healthier include:

  • Monounsaturated fats: These fats can be found in many foods and oils, including avocado, olives, almonds, peanut butter, and canola oil. These fats lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) blood cholesterol levels, and they have the potential to help your body’s insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is especially great for people who have type 2 diabetes.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: These fats, which you know as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, show up mainly in plant-based foods and oils, like walnuts, pumpkin seeds, corn oil, sunflower oil, and flaxseed, but are also commonly found in seafood, and egg yolks. These fats also improve your blood cholesterol levels, and might lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Other benefits include helping to prevent various mental disorders, protecting against dementia, helping support a healthy pregnancy, boosting memory and mood, and fighting fatigue. Omega fatty acids are also known to help regulate hormonal functioning, which can help improve fertility for many females (and males too).

Not-so-healthy fats to avoid

Less healthy fats are more solid at room temperature, and they generally come in two different forms: trans fats and saturated fats. Generally, trans fats are considered more dangerous to your health than saturated fats.

  • Saturated fat: Experts are still undecided about how bad saturated fat really is for us. On one hand, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association agree that saturated fat can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke. On the other hand, many experts say that it’s okay to enjoy a little saturated fat in your diet every so often and stay healthy. Either way, we should all be very wary of our saturated fat consumption. Saturated fat is found mainly in a wide variety of foods including meat, eggs, whole milk, and processed foods like pizza, hot dogs, and cold cuts. It raises bad cholesterol, which increases a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly type 2 diabetes. It’s hard to avoid saturated fat entirely, but many suggest that it’s best to limit your consumption to 20 grams or less per day.
  • Trans fat: Some saturated fats may be okay, but trans fats are a different story. In fact, the FDA no longer considers them “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption. Again: trans fats are widely considered not safe for human consumption. Most trans fats are normal fat molecules that have been totally changed as a result of processing. They increase our bad cholesterol and lower our good cholesterol, and they also raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It’s best to avoid trans fats as often as possible, which means reading nutrition labels and looking for the words “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil.” If either of those ingredients show up on the list, it’s best to skip it.
It’s likely that we need laughter to live a long life, and fats are pretty important too. Making sure that you regularly get enough of both will keep your body functioning for years to come.

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