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What are Healthy Fats? Take the Healthy Fats Challenge

Randy Mayor
July's Goal: Eat more healthy fats. Yes, more fats. Here's why and how.

Fat is the most feared nutrient in the American diet. Thirty years ago, most health and nutrition experts encouraged us to eat as little as possible—certainly no more than 30% of calories from fat. This was the mantra, and it informed Cooking Light’s approach to a healthy diet, as well. Now we know that total fat is no longer really the issue. Some fats are more healthy, some less. And while it’s important to keep an eye on your daily intake—fats are packed with calories—a naturally balanced diet should embrace the good-for-you fats.

What you need to know: Our bodies need fat to function properly—fat is an essential nutrient. But saturated fats—those found in foods such as butter and other high-fat dairy products, meat, and coconut milk—tend, when eaten too often, to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and promote plaque buildup in your arteries. This is also true of the trans fats, which are often the product of the process that turns liquid fats solid for use in processed foods. Saturated fat intake should be kept to a reasonable level; trans fats should be avoided.

By contrast, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals from foods, lower LDL and total cholesterol, and keep us feeling full and satisfied. Replace unhealthy fats with good ones, which you’ll find in vegetable oils, fish, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados.