Facts About Good Fat
By Natalia Martinez, RD LD
The ideal bariatric diet should be low in high fat foods. However, fats have many functions in the body, most importantly they provide energy. For instance, natural oils in the skin provide a radiant complexion. In the scalp, fats help make your hair nourished and glossy. The layer of fat beneath the skin insulates the body from extreme temperatures. A pad of hard fat beneath each kidney protects it from being jarred and damaged.
The diverse and vital functions that lipids (fats) play in the body reveal why eating too little fat can be harmful. But, it is important to be able to distinguish between the different types of fats. To understand both the beneficial and harmful effects that fats exert on the body, we must look closer at the function of the entire lipid family.
Fats are divided into three groups, based on the main type of fat they contain:
Unsaturated fats (monosaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3) are derived primarily from vegetables and are liquid at room temperature. These fats have positive health benefits.
- Monosaturated fats help lower total cholesterol levels and may help raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This type of fat can be found in olive oil and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels. These are found in vegetable oils such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower.
- Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat and can help lower triglyceride levels and the risk of heart disease. These fats are found mainly in fatty fish, leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains.
Saturated fats may contribute to heart disease. They can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and should be limited to small amounts in your diet. Saturated fats are primarily solid at room temperature.
Major sources of saturated fats include:
- Whole milk (and even reduced-fat milk), cheese, sour cream, and ice cream
- Fatty cuts of beef and pork
- Processed meats such as bacon, sausage, and hot dogs
- Tropical oils (coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil) and products containing them such as cakes, doughnuts, and pastries
- Shortening and lard
Trans fats are made during the process that changes vegetable oils into semi-solid fats. These fats can raise blood cholesterol levels and should be consumed in small amounts. Partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fats are types of man-made trans fats and should be avoided. Trans fats are also found in some animal products such as meat, cheese, butter, and dairy products.
Major sources of trans fats include:
- Cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, and crackers
- Hard margarine
- Fried potatoes and other commercial fried foods such as chicken
- Potato chips and corn chips