What you need to know about fats and how they fit into your diet
Credit: Randy Mayor; Leigh Ann Ross

Dietary fats continue to make news, and the latest findings could be a surprise: Lower-fat diets may not be as healthful as once believed. We now know fats are necessary components of our diet: They deliver essential fatty acids the body cannot manufacture, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which bolster heart health. Additionally, certain vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they are digested and absorbed or transported in the body with fat. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

While the revised Dietary Guidelines from 2005 took a more liberal approach to how much fat is healthful, the American Heart Association recently tightened its recommendations about saturated fat for healthy Americans.

What does it mean? All fats are high in calories, so you should enjoy them in moderation. And once you understand a little of the science behind the four types of fats in foods, it's easy to strike a balance between flavorful cooking and good health.

The final word
A balanced diet is one that eliminates or minimizes artificial trans fats, employs a modicum of saturated fat for flavor, and focuses on unsaturated fats, the types found in vegetable oils, seeds, avocados, nuts, and fish, for the greatest health benefits. These recipes show you how to make the most of tasty saturated fats and healthful unsaturated fats while keeping calories in check.