Andrea Ayala

Andrea Ayala

Fat is the most frowned-upon macronutrient because it is the most calorie-dense and is commonly seen as detrimental to general health. While there is some truth to this, the reality is that fat is just as important to the daily diet as carbohydrates and protein. However, the type of fat consumed is crucial to consider.

Overconsumption of saturated and trans fat has been proven to increase risk of heart disease and stroke by raising the cholesterol levels in the blood. On the other hand, appropriate consumption of unsaturated fat can help lower cholesterol and overall risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends decreasing saturated fats and replacing them with a moderate amount of unsaturated fat as part of a healthy daily diet.

Saturated fats are most commonly found in animal sources: fatty cuts of red meat, skin on poultry and dairy products like milk, butter and cheese. Some plant sources also contain saturated fats, such as coconut and its oil.

Although these foods are sources of an unhealthy fat, it is not recommended to completely eliminate any food from the diet. Reducing the amount that is consumed can be very beneficial. Trans fat is a man-made fat source that was originally created as a substitution for saturated fat. Over time, studies have shown that trans fat is just as detrimental to health as saturated fat and is no longer recommended as part of a healthy diet.

Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as well as omega fatty acids. These are most commonly found in plant sources such as avocados, nuts and olives. Cooking oils such as olive, canola, vegetable and peanut oil are only a few of numerous plant-based oils that contain unsaturated fats. Salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are also excellent sources to incorporate into weekly meals. Although these are considered a healthy source, too much of a good thing can be bad. It is important to note the proper serving size for avocados (one-quarter avocado) and nuts (1 ounce) and aim to use small amounts of oil when cooking.

A general rule of thumb is saturated fats are most often a solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Decreasing consumption of saturated fats and substituting with proper amounts of unsaturated fat can be beneficial not only to heart health but also promotes brain health and can contribute to maintaining a healthy weight.

I encourage everyone to take a peek at the nutrient labels on their next trip to the grocery store and consider making the fat swap at home.

Andrea Ayala is a dietitian with Detar Healthcare System.

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