The facts about fats

Knowing the fats can save your life

Knowing the difference between “good” fat and “bad” fat can impact your health in a positive way. With all the talk of fat wreaking havoc on the body, it can be hard to imagine some fats being healthy.

The good news is that fats known as essential fatty acids, EFAs or Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, tend to be burned more easily by the body than other types of fat. This type of fat will also help your joints stay healthy, as well as help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

While fish, such as salmon or tuna, are the best sources of EFAs, there are other foods for those who don’t enjoy eating that which comes from the ocean. Flax bread or multi-grained breads can often be a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Check the nutrition label on the bottom of the loaf—if it’s there—and look for polyunsaturated fat.

Virgin olive oil and oil-based salad dressings are other really good sources of these fatty acids. Forget about ‘light’ salad dressing and choose oil based Italian or Greek dressings with feta and oregano to get the health benefits of EFAs.

Omega-6 fat on the other hand isn’t as hard to come by. It can be found in red meat and a number of other foods. Most Canadians get enough of it in their diet.

Monounsaturated fats, found in nuts and some cooking oils, aren’t as fantastically healthy as the polyunsaturated fats, but as long as they aren’t overdone they do have some benefits, especially for very active people. For those into cardiovascular exercise, remember that the heart prefers fat to carbohydrates for its primary energy source.

By now you might be thinking this whole fat thing is too good to be true. Well, you’re right.

Most of the fats North Americans eat are saturated fats, which might well be called “fast food fat.” Saturated fats are also listed on some nutrition labels and should generally be avoided. They can be found in milk and red meat, foods that definitely should not be avoided. Try to choose low-fat milk or cheeses and take the visible fats off of your meat. Cutting hamburgers out of your diet is also a good idea. Trans fats on the other hand could equally have been called evil fats. These “fake fats” are usually manufactured by food processing companies, and are often combined with sugar to make cookies or other baked goods. They should always be avoided. French fries contain lots of this stuff, and so does hard margarine. New soft margarine now on the market is a much healthier choice.

The body generally finds saturated and trans fats hard to burn as energy so it either stores them or turns them into cholesterol, which is a bad thing for most people.

The trick is to spend some time reading the nutrition labels on the food you buy. And, obviously, everyone should work to eliminate saturated and especially trans-fatty acids.

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