As we are scanning the labels of food to see if it’s healthy enough for us, we always look at one thing with a sense of uncertainty: fats. We see total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats, but what do these really mean? What are “good fats” and “bad fats”? Here’s a rundown of what kinds of fats you should and shouldn’t eat, what is good for you and what isn’t, and a better way to healthy eating.

The Basics: What is Fat?

Fat is a source of energy for the body and it helps absorb vitamins. Fat is found in everything – plants and animals products alike. Fat is an important part of your diet, when eaten in moderation. It brings taste, consistency, and stability to your food, and also fills you up. Fats are especially important sources of calories for infants and toddlers, according to the FDA. Interestingly enough, every gram of fat has nine calories, regardless of the type of fat. However, fat is also energy-dense; therefore, consuming lots of fat will lead to consuming too many calories. In comparison to carbohydrates and proteins, which each contain about four calories per gram, that is a lot of calorie consumption.

There are four major kinds of fat: saturated fats, trans fat, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. The bad fats are saturated and trans fat, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good fats. Bad fats are more solid, like butter or margarine. Good fats tend to be more liquid in nature, such as vegetable oil. While studies have shown that people that have diets with high saturated fat do not explicitly have more cardiovascular diseases than those who do not have a high amount of saturated fat in their diet, it has been shown that cutting back on saturated fats reduces risk of diseases happening, as explained by helpguide.org.

Bad Fats

Trans fats in the Western diet are primarily found in solid fats, such as butter or margarine. These are mainly found in baked goods, fried food, snack food, and pre-mixed/pre-made products. Try to cut back on these products as much as possible, because they’re generally just not that great for you.

Saturated fats are found in animal products. Red meat and full-fat dairy products have a lot of saturated fats in them. Alter your red meat options with seafood or chicken. Have leaner cut meats or the white part of the meat. Choose low-fat dairy product options when available, and use full-fat products in moderation. Avoid cream and cheese sauces when possible.

Good Fats

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the types of fat that are good to consume. They are mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and fish. Instead of greasing a pan with butter, grease it with olive oil. Have nuts as a snack instead of cookies. Choose no salad dressing, or dress it yourself, so you know how much dressing is on your salad. Avocados and olives are healthier fatty products that are fulfilling yet low-calorie snacks.

How to Eat Fat

So we’ve decided that some fats are good for us, and some aren’t. We know the official names of the good and bad fats. But for food that doesn’t have a label on it, what is good and bad?

Go good fat, not no fat. Mixing up the kinds of fat you eat is more important than cutting out fat. Eating more good than bad fats is better than completely trying to cut fat out of your diet.

Fat-free does not mean healthy. “Fat-free” may have less fat-oriented calories, but that just means that the calories are replaced by sugar and carbohydrate calories. If you want to eat something that is high in fat content, it’s better to just go for the authentic product than something that is altered.

Low-fat diets are not the key to weight loss. Losing weight correlates to cutting calories. Because fat has more calories but also fills you up faster, they can curb overeating on low-calorie, but unfulfilling foods.

Cut back on your intake of saturated fats. Red meat and full-fat dairy products have lots of saturated fats. Switch out your proteins from red meat to seafood or plant proteins. If you drink whole milk, switch to a lower fat-content version, if the taste change doesn’t bother you too much.

The key to a healthy life is to have a full life, but that doesn’t mean to always indulge. Getting into a better shape via diet is important because the calories you consume affect your energy levels. Cutting back on your bad fats in order to eat your good fats allows for a healthier diet and more energy overall. Knowing what kinds of fat you should eat and knowing the different kinds of fat won’t instantly drop you down a pants size or two, but it will allow you to have a better understanding of what exactly you’re putting into your body.

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