Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

There is a never-ending battle going on in gyms around the world when it comes to burning fat… a conflict that also spills into our kitchens and diet. From the fat-free obsessed 80’s and 90’s to the high- fat Adkins craze, it’s hard to know where fat should fit into our diet.  What exactly can we eat for optimum health without putting on those extra pounds?  How can we reduce body fat and get the most of our workouts?  

At its core, eating fat is an animalistic behavior. We fatten up to survive the winter. On a more palette-related level, fats taste delicious.  They are readily available and add a lot of flavor to the foods we eat.  And since fat was critical to early survival, our bodies crave it. 
A few things, however, have changed since the days of our ancestors.  Food is far more abundant and we are much less active - a dangerous development for our waistlines!  Discretion in our diets is now an important part of everyday life. The key to a healthy diet is recognizing the distinction between good and bad fats and making good fats a diet staple while avoiding the bad. This is the tricky part.

What is Saturated Fat?
We hear the term frequently, but what exactly are saturated fats? Saturation is synonymous with words like loaded, full, or dense. These dense fats have a molecular make-up that is believed to contribute to a number of dangerous diseases including cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, and a variety of cancers. For this reason, it is better to incorporate unsaturated fats as opposed to their dense counterparts.

What Foods are Rich in Unsaturated Fats?
A prime, defining component of unsaturated fats is the existence of natural, raw ingredients. For example, salmon or trout are chock full of essential Omega-3s. And while there are Omega-3 supplements available, it is optimal to rely on whole foods such as fish for the bulk of your good fat intake.  Not to be overlooked, monounsaturated fats like almonds, avocados, olive oils, and cashews are great ways to give your body the right type of fats and can be added to all sorts of daily snacks.

What Foods Should I Limit to Reduce My Saturated Fat Intake?
Saturated fats are much easier to find and recognize.  You can bet if it is a processed meat (lunch meats, etc.) it has tons of saturated fats (and sodium). Several popular meats such as pork and hamburger and dairy products are loaded with saturated fats.  Is it processed, baked, or fried? Beware! Start reading your food labels when you shop for groceries to check the fat content of foods. Chances are if it looks suspect, it is. Look for lean meats such as turkey, lean cuts of beef, or wild game meats. Avoid anything labeled “Low Fat”. This means the food has been processed to remove the fat and something has been added to make it taste good…something that is likely worse for you than the fat that was removed.

Lowering your bad fat intake not only can help reduce your waistline, but it can help prevent diseases or reduce the risk of certain cancers. Cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast as well as disease of the heart have been linked to too much bad fat in the diet. Unfortunately, it takes more than just a change in diet to reduce your weight and treat your body well. Combining healthy snacking (be sure to have a good fat and protein at every snack) and meals with exercise, a non-sedentary lifestyle, and diligent food label reading will make your body and heart healthy and put money back in your pocket that would’ve been spent on bad fats. Your body with thank you and you’ll thank yourself. 

Happy Eating!