Fats have a bad reputation but are an essential part of our diet. For instance, they are required for brain development in infants and growing children.
As a source of energy, they have many functions in the body – such as carrying nutrients – including some that are not present in carbohydrates or proteins. They also add flavor and richness to our foods. There are different types of fats that affect us in different ways, and different foods have a variety of types of fats.
Excessive trans fats have been found to be harmful for cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association and the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines recommend that you limit your intake of trans fats as much as possible. Trans fats can be found in processed and fried foods. Watch out for these in your food labels; sometimes they are labeled as “partially hydrogenated oils.” There are also small amounts of trans fats in dairy and meat products.
Research on saturated fats is still growing, but it is becoming clearer that saturated fats are not simply the “bad fats” we once thought they were. There are plenty of vitamins and nutrients in foods that contain saturated fats. Sources of saturated fats include dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and butter, and other animal products, including meat. Some plant-based foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat and promote heart health. They are typically liquid at room temperature. Most plant oils, such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil, are made up of mostly unsaturated fats. You can also find them in fish, nuts, and seeds. Omega-3s and omega-6s are two types of unsaturated fats that our bodies need.
One concern with eating low-fat food products is that they are often produced with higher amounts of added sugar, which is associated with a variety of health risks, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and others. It is important for us to consume a balanced diet, and that includes eating a variety of sources of fats. Some healthy and delicious options are nuts and seeds, dairy products, fish, seafood, cooking oils, and other foods.