“I don’t understand the difference between good and bad fat.” - Yael Drinkle: Age 35, YMCA Program Manager, North Vancouver, British Columbia
After Yael had her second child, she started measuring portions and drastically cut her fat intake. She’s only buys “no-fat” or “low-fat” products. “I probably sound like a psycho about fat,” she says, “but it really helped me achieve my goal.” (She lost 35 pounds.) Right now, Yael’s daily fat intake consists of a tablespoon of peanut butter, six almonds, and a little olive oil spritz to sauté foods for dinner. A recent trip to the grocery store with a “superhealthy” friend prompted some questions: “I realized we shopped in two different ways. I looked at the calories and fat information on the label, and all she looked at was the number of ingredients listed.”
Yael’s willpower is commendable, but her fat monitoring may actually be hampering her health: Adequate amounts of healthy fats are an important part of the overall diet, and Yael may not be getting enough. She needs to be able to recognize which foods are good sources of healthy fats (beyond the ones she’s already eating—peanut butter, olive oil, and almonds) so she can incorporate more of those into her food choices.
- Shift focus away from total fat. The nutrition label’s number for total fat includes bad fats and good fats, so it is misleading. Nuts, for example, may have a high total fat number, but the fat in nuts is mostly the good, heart-healthy kind. Look at the specific types of fat listed under total fat: Aim for more mono- and polyunsaturated fats, less saturated, and no trans.
- Know a good fat when you see it. If a fat is liquid at room temperature, such as olive and canola oils, it’s likely a good fat. If the fat is solid at room temperature (butter, lard, or shortening), it’s higher in saturated or may contain trans fat. Every rule has exceptions, though. In this case, it’s dairy, which can be high in saturated fat whether solid (cheese) or liquid (cream).
- Try fish instead of chicken. July is a great month to try wild salmon—it’s peak season. We’ve given you a head start with our Best Healthy Salmon Recipes. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat that helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Other fish, such as striped bass, rainbow trout, and barramundi, are also great sources—all of these have more than double the recommended daily amount of omega-3s.
- Processed doesn’t equal better for you. Yael can learn a good nutrition lesson from the shopping trip with her friend: The shorter the ingredient list, the better. Plus, low-fat and fat-free products aren’t always automatically healthier just because they have fewer grams of fat—they’re often loaded with other ingredients like sugars and salt to compensate for a lack of flavor.
- Embrace whole foods. Olives, nuts, and edamame are packed with good-for-you fats—they make great snacks or ingredients in recipes. Sliced avocado adds amazing richness (and heart-healthy fats) to salads. Although fish is the best source of omega-3s, walnuts and flaxseeds have some of the essential fatty acids, too.