The Skinny on Dietary Fats: When to Embrace Them, When to Resist

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Eating clean isn’t easy. Because the public is given differing and sometimes contradictory reports, it’s hard to effectively navigate what we should be eating, what we should be avoiding, what diet trends are scams, and what food regimens actually hold weight. Some of the oldest weight-maintenance tricks in the book are now being debunked, and it’s safe to say consumers are confused. And who can blame them?

While low-fat, low-carb diets used to be all the rage, more evidence is cropping up that not all fat is created equal: suddenly, dieters are seeking out the fat rather than hiding from it. What’s more, “healthy fats” are now a staple in healthy eaters’ arsenal of dietary tricks, and things are officially getting twisted. Let’s break down the facts behind the fat — the good, the bad, and the omega-3s. Then, we’ll apply that knowledge to the grocery store and outline where you should be going fat-free and where you should be getting down with the full fat.

To begin, everyone should understand that there are two types of fat: good fats and bad fats. Plain and simple, good fats tend to lower LDL cholesterol levels, subsequently lowering one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, while bad fats raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase that risk of disease. Easy enough to understand, but the hard part is determining which fats fall into which- camp. HelpGuide.org says that the fats consumers are told to stay away from (or at least only consume in moderation) include trans fats and saturated fats, as they raise cholesterol and put you at a higher risk for heart disease. Diets rich in saturated fat and trans fat can contribute to clogged arteries.

Saturated fats have long been recognized as the bad guys in fat world; trans fats recently joined them, and the latter is understood as even worse than the former. According to WebMDlike saturated fats, trans fats raise LDL cholesterol, but they take it a step further and lower HDL, or “good” cholesterol, potentially causing more damage. The American Heart Association advises limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 7 percent of daily calories and trans fat consumption to less than 1 percent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has even officially declared war on trans fat.

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