Creasy: Fat not always a bad thing

February 12, 2014 

For quite some time, fat has been seen as the bad guy when it comes to food and nutrition.

As food companies produced low fat versions of cookies, crackers and chips, many consumers came to believe that fats could not be a healthy part of our diet. In recent years, dietary intervention research studies and epidemiological data have shown that moderate amounts of fat in our diet can indeed be beneficial for health.

Although fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein (9 calories/gram versus 4 calories/gram), it is required by our body to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. Certain types of fat may also aid in increasing levels of the good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), in our bodies and may reduce our risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases.

So what types of fat should we be eating? The sources of fat we want to consume most often are fats and oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Fat sources that are high in saturated fats should be limited. Trans fats are a type of saturated fat that can raise levels of the bad cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL). Consumption of trans fats should be kept as low as possible.

As you are making your shopping list, strive to include foods that help you consume more beneficial fats. Some suggestions are:

• Salmon, tuna, trout and other fatty fish;

• Nut butters;

• Nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.);

• Oils that are liquid at room temperature (olive, canola, vegetable, etc.);

• Avocados; and

• Ground flax seeds and other seeds.

Although fats are an important part of a balanced diet, you must still consume fats in moderation to keep your health in check. Depending on individual calorie needs, most people can consume one to three servings of fat at each meal. One serving of fat contains about 45 calories and 5 grams of fat. Examples of a serving are:

• 10 peanuts

• 1 1/2 teaspoons of nut butters

• 1 tablespoon seeds

• 8 large black olives

• 6 almonds

• 2 tablespoons avocado

• 1 teaspoon liquid oil or vegetable oil spread

• 1 teaspoon of regular mayonnaise

Fats are no longer the villain they once were. They help our bodies absorb fat soluble vitamins and give us a feeling of satiety.

Set a goal to incorporate beneficial fats into each of your meals. Your body will appreciate it. Happy eating.

Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences.

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