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Good Fats?

By Carol Witte, RDN, Senior Services Nutrition Program Director

It is almost odd to place “good” and “fat” together but there really are some “good” fats. Sometimes, though, it is very difficult to find the correct information to help you make good, informed decisions about what types of fat to include in your diet.

So you may ask, “Why are fats good and what do they do for my body?”
Fats are a great source of energy that provide nine calories per gram of fat. This could be good or bad depending on whether you need to lose or gain weight. Proteins and carbohydrates only provide four calories per gram. Fats are important for energy and are the carriers of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenoids. Fats can impact your health and help your heart and arteries if you choose the right types of fat. Eating too much saturated or “trans” fat may increase your risk of heart disease. The goal is to be aware of those foods that have saturated, trans fats and cholesterol which may clog your arteries. I am aware that there are many new articles out there stating that eating some foods high in cholesterol are not found to raise your cholesterol, but I am still waiting for more information before I change my eating habits. Saturated fats are still listed as foods to avoid with some of the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines and many foods which are high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fats. All fats contain varying amounts of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This is why it gets confusing.

Which fats are the best to include in your diet?
Monounsaturated fats: Nuts, canola oil, olive oil and sunflower oil.
Polyunsaturated fats (Omega -6): Vegetable oils—soybean, corn and safflower.
Polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3): Fish (Salmon, Trout and Herring) as well as vegetable oils— soybean, canola, walnuts and flaxseed.

Which is better: margarine or butter?
Butter is a saturated fat – it stays relatively solid at room temperature and it contains cholesterol. It is made from milk or cream or both and contains at least 80% milk fat. Margarine became popular in the 1980’s as a butter substitute with less saturated fat and no cholesterol, until there was a question about trans fat and partially hydrogenated fat in the 1990’s. Now most margarine contains no or nearly no trans fats. Many margarines use polyunsaturated fats like soybean oil, along with palm or palm kernel oil, which is a saturated fat, to help them stay more solid at room temperature.

Now even more confused? I recommend reading your labels and the nutrition facts. Watch for saturated fats and lower your intake of these. Try to purchase fat spreads with no more than two grams of saturated fat. Note the list of ingredients and look for the good fats listed above and be aware of the partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) although please note FDA allows products that are less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving to be listed as “0” on the food label.

Limit your use of spreads and margarines, if possible and limit your use of butter. Neither is a good choice of fat. There are some items, however, that just need a certain type of fat. Some baked goods can use oil as a replacement for margarine and others cannot.

So you may ask – what do I do as a dietitian?
With menus and recipes planned at Senior Services, we continue to limit the total amount of fat and avoid trans fats. We provide margarine in place of butter with meals – but limit that as well. We do use vegetable oils in cooking. At home I do the same. I use olive oil and canola oil as my two fat choices for cooking. I use small amounts of spreads with a blend of good oils and as little partially hydrogenated oil as I can find and then limit those as well. I save butter for special occasions and limit the amounts to top off the special recipes that were passed down to me.

Portion control is a must with all fats—even the “good” ones!