Good-for-You Fats

Believe it or not, a little fat can be beneficial--if you choose the right type. Try these flavorful recipes low in saturated fat.
Shannon Sliter Satterwhite, M.S., R.D.

Guess what? Our bodies need fat. It helps in the performance of vital functions, such as transporting vitamins, protecting organs, and maintaining healthy skin and hair. Too much of it, however, isn't good. The key is eating the right fats in moderation.

We don't have to give up the richness of butter or ice cream to stay healthy, but we do need to limit the amount of artery-clogging saturated fats we eat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated cooking oils, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and heart-healthy seafood can provide lots of flavor and great benefits. Taste these dishes, and you'll agree that fat-smartis the way to live.

A Healthy Change
Notice anything different about the nutritional analysis that appears below our recipes? It has to do with fat--"% calories from fat," to be exact. We took it out of our calculations because the number can be easily misinterpreted.

Take Lemon Vinaigrette, for example. If we told you that the calories from fat percentage is about 98%, you might avoid it, thinking it's too high in fat. You might also believe that it's in violation of the 30% daily recommendation for fat calories, right? Wrong. The percentage we're omitting (98%) is merely a proportion of fat calories in that particular recipe; it's not a daily value.

 

The truth is, Lemon Vinaigrette is actually very good for you, with only 85 calories per serving, and it is rich in healthful monounsaturated fat from olive oil. So forget percentages. Here's what you should know.

  • Balance your daily calorie intake with physical activity.
  • Eat fiber-rich carbs (including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), unsaturated fats, and lean meats.
  • Increase your calcium intake to 1,000mg to 1,200mg a day (for adults) to keep your bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Try to keep your sodium intake below 2,300mg per day.

Facts About Fats
With all the confusing hype about what to eat (or what not to eat), it’s hard to know what to do. Make better choices with this helpful guide.

  • Monounsaturated fat: Found in cooking oils, such as olive, peanut, and canola, this heart-healthy fat may help reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease. Other sources include avocados and most nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Good sources include vegetable, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils. Health benefits are similar to those of monounsaturated fat.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These polyunsaturated fats are mostly found in seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring. Walnuts and flaxseeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish regularly may help reduce the risk of coronary artery disease by 50%.
  • Saturated fat: This solid fat is mostly found in animal products, such as beef, poultry, pork, butter, and whole milk. Other sources include tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oils. Too much may increase bad cholesterol, raising the risk of heart disease and stroke. Limit your intake to less than 10% of your total daily calories.
  • Trans fat: Also known as hydrogenated fat, trans fat is commonly found in vegetable shortening, some margarines, and commercial baked goods. Because it has health risks similar to saturated fat, keep your intake as low as possible.