When it comes to the fats you consume, there are the green lights (mono- and polyunsaturated), the yellow lights (saturated), and the red lights (trans). All of these fats are more accurately known as fatty acids, classified by the way the carbon atoms creating each particular fat are bonded together, according to Lisa Ellis, a Registered Dietician with a private practice in White Plains, NY.
There are some fatty acids that you want to limit in your diet. Saturated fats (which are solid at room temperature and most often found in red meat and full-fat dairy) and trans fats (found in fried and baked foods made with partially hydrogenated oils) contribute to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Both types of bad fats raise harmful blood cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL), and trans fats do extra damage by lowering good (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) cholesterol. Some foods containing saturated fat, such as egg yolks, can contain other good-for-you nutrients, and eating a limited amount can be part of a healthy diet (unless otherwise advised by your doctor). Like the yellow light suggests, proceed with caution. Whereas, trans fats are a full stop red light. They have no redeeming nutritional value, and should be avoided entirely.
And then, there are those fats that get the green light. In moderation, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids contribute to good health. They help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And as counterintuitive as it sounds, they can actually help reduce harmful blood cholesterol levels and guard against heart disease, obesity, cancer, and more.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, plus ways to incorporate them into your diet.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Monounsaturated fats are usually plant-based and liquid at room temperature. These fats help reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and therefore monounsaturated fats can help decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke, says Ellis. They may also help aid insulin’s response and help with blood sugar control.
If you want to be sure you’re getting enough monounsaturated fatty acids, think Mediterranean diet: Use olive and sunflower oils in your cooking, and incorporate avocados and olives into your meals.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Polyunsaturated fats are constructed with several double bonds and are also liquid at room temperature. Having more double bonds makes this type of fat less stable than other kinds of fat, allowing it to break apart easily in digestion, says Ellis. Polyunsaturated fats help improve blood cholesterol levels, and may help decrease the risk of heart disease. They’re also thought to decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Commonly known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they are nutritionally important yet are not created in our bodies through other means, Ellis says. So it’s vital to incorporate these essential fatty acids in your diet. Start with walnuts, ground flaxseed, tofu, and fish, such as sardines, herring, trout, cod liver, and salmon.
Moderation is Key
Consuming mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids is essential to good health, but all fats, even the good kind, are highly caloric and should be consumed in moderation. To keep yourself in check, remember that no more than 25% to 35% of your daily calories should come from fats, with less than 10% coming from the saturated kind and none from trans fats.
Provided by Dr. Oz The Good Life Magazine