Do you remember when consuming a low fat diet was preached by many individuals? Yah, that was so 1999. The truth is we NEED fats in our diet! Not only are fats a source of energy, they play an important role in hormone production, brain function, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, temperature regulation and protection of our organs. Dietary fat adds flavour and fullness, but since not all fats are created equally, it’s important that we are chowing down on the right ones.  

Trans Fats

Defined:  A liquid oil that has been chemically changed into a solid fat. Some trans-fat exist naturally in foods (e.g. meat); however, most are produced by the industry from vegetable oil.

Purpose: Added to foods to provide texture and flavour.

Effect on health: Risk factor for cardiac disease as it is thought to induce an inflammatory response in cardiac tissue, decreases good cholesterol levels (HDL) while increasing bad cholesterol levels (LDL).

Sources: Commercially baked goods, fried foods, processed and packaged snacks

How to include them in your diet: Don’t even go there.

Saturated Fats

Defined: An unhealthy fat found naturally in animal-based foods (e.g. fatty cuts of meat, higher fat dairy products) and tropical oils.

Purpose: Provides flavour and a rich texture.

Effect on health: Encourages the liver to make bad cholesterol, may increase risk for heart disease and stroke.

Sources: Fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin on, butter, lard, higher fat dairy products, tropical oils (e.g. coconut and palm kernel oils)

How to include them in your diet: Stay away if you can! Dietary consumption should be limited to less than 10% of total caloric intake.

Monounsaturated Fats

Defined: Healthy fat found naturally in many foods like nuts and oils

Purpose: Naturally provides flavour and a rich texture while protecting the heart

Effect on health: Thought to lower bad cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation and increase satiety when replacing unhealthy fats.

Sources: Olive and canola oil, non-hydrogenated margarines, avocados, nuts (almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews), seeds (pumpkin), peanut butter.

How to include them in your diet: Use avocados to add creaminess and texture to sandwiches or add them to salads, add a serving of nuts to salads, cereals, yogurt or pair it with a fruit as a snack, use olive oil (with or without balsamic vinegar) as a salad dressing.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Defined: Healthy fats that include omega-3 and omega-6 fats

Purpose: Naturally provides flavour and a rich texture while protecting the heart

Effect on health: May lower bad cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and risk for heart disease and stroke.  Omega-3 can provide antioxidants (e.g. vitamin E); assist with brain and cardiac health.

Sources: Omega-3 – fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herrings, sardines), oils, softs margarines, added to products like eggs and milk products, seeds (chia, flax), walnuts

Omega-6 – oils (safflower, sunflower, corn), nuts (pecans), seeds (sunflower)

How to include them in your diet: eat fatty fish twice weekly by tossing them into a salad or pasta and consume nuts and seeds as a snack

Devika Sharma

Devika is a registered dietitian, and is certified in health and fitness studies. She currently holds a position as a renal dietitian and nutrition consultant for Synaptitude Brain Health and is the founder of One More Bite - a Vancouver-based nutrition consulting company that aims to provide evidence-based dietary information to assist with nutrition impacted diseases. She is a strong advocate for health and nutrition and firmly believes that embracing the concept of moderation contributes to a sustainable healthy lifestyle.

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