Be fat smart

Knowing the difference between good and bad fat can help keep you healthy.

Have you ever eaten food that was so light and airy that you couldn’t believe there was as much fat in it as the label said? Well you are not alone. Many of our foods contain hidden fats that can blindside us in our quest to a healthier lifestyle. So, how do we decipher good from bad fats and take control of these surprise fat attacks? Know your food. Let’s go through some information that can help you to be that fat detective.

Our bodies need some fat to survive. A diet without fat is very unhealthy, but fat needs to be consumed in moderation. Keep in mind that fat contains twice the amount of calories as carbohydrates and protein per gram measuring 9 calories per gram. You can create a visual of the amount of fat in a serving of your favorite food by dividing the total amount of fat grams by four. This will allow you to visualize the amount in teaspoons. For example, one Honey Bun donut has 16 grams of fat. Divided by four, this would equal 4 teaspoons of fat per honey bun. You can create this visual for all of your foods by remembering:

4 grams of fat = 1 teaspoon of fat.

There are four different types of fats that are found in foods. Some are healthy and some are not healthy. We need to eat fat in moderation, and if we eat more fat than needed, our body will store it and excess weight will be gained. The goal is to eat more healthy fats and less of the unhealthy fats and stay around 25 percent of your total caloric intake for a day. For a 2,000 calorie diet, the recommended fat grams per day would be 55-56 grams of fat.

Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3 fats are considered ‘Heart Healthy” as they can help to improve cholesterol and triglyceride values. Omega-3 heart healthy foods include: fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and rainbow trout), tofu, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are found in: avocado, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, pine nuts, and pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds), olive oil and olives, vegetable oils and peanut butter.

Saturated fats are not healthy and are mainly found in foods from animals as well as fried and some pre-packaged foods. These foods can increase the “bad” cholesterol or LDL and increase your risk for heart disease. Many saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are visible in such foods as high-fat meats. Other sources include: high-fat cheeses, whole milk and cream, butter, ice cream, palm and coconut oils.

Trans fats tend to be the most harmful to your health and are simply a liquid oil that has been turned into a solid during processing. Trans fats are mostly found in processed foods and have a double whammy on your health by increasing the “bad” cholesterol and decreasing the “healthy” cholesterol. Trans fats will be listed on the nutrition label, but you can also look for partially-hydrogenated and shortening as sources. Products that contain this type of fat are commercially baked products, crackers and fried foods.

Michigan State University Extension provides a variety of programs that can help you with information towards a healthy lifestyle. Take control of your health and be a food detective. Take good care of your body and it will take good care of you.

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