Get the Facts About Fats
By Emily Ng
Saturated fats, unsaturated fats, trans fats — what do all these mean? These are the different types of fats found in foods that we eat. The difference is in their chemical structure, deeming some “healthy” and others “unhealthy.”
“Unhealthy” Fats are saturated and trans fats; excess intake of these fats is linked with increased rates of disease, such as heart disease. These fats are mostly solid at room temperature.
- Saturated fats — These fats contain all single bonds and are saturated with hydrogen. Some major sources of saturated fats come from meats, poultry with skin, butter, lard, whole milk dairy products, coconut oil and palm oil. These fats increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
- Trans fats — These fats have been partially hydrogenated (look for those words on a food label to identify them) to increase shelf stability and saturation. The name trans fat comes from the position of the hydrogens and the double bond. Major sources include baked goods, fried foods, margarines and processed foods. These fats both increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
“Healthy” Fats are also called unsaturated fats; increased intake of these fats is linked with improved cholesterol levels and other various health benefits. These fats are mostly liquid at room temperature.
- Monounsaturated fats — These fats have one double bond present. Major sources include canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, avocado and pumpkin seeds.
- Polyunsaturated fats — These fats have two or more double bonds present and include the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Major sources include fish, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and certain seeds (such as flax and chia).
Is there a good time of day to eat fats?
Fats increase your feeling of fullness and satiety because they delay gastric emptying, meaning food stays in your stomach longer. Because of this, it is not a good idea to consume a high-fat meal right before exercise as it may cause an upset stomach, nausea and cramping.
An important tip to remember is to balance your meals and spread your intake throughout the day. As with any food, moderation of fats is still important. When possible, try to choose the healthy fats over the unhealthy fats.
How can you increase your intake of healthy fats?
- Choose olive or canola oil-based salad dressings instead of creamy dressings. This will also shave a lot of calories off your salads!
- Try snacking on trail mixes with nuts and seeds instead of reaching for a bag of chips or cookies.
- Limit the amount of French fries, ice cream, pastries, fried chicken and fatty meats you eat.
- Try to increase your fish intake to two times a week. Don’t forget to look for fish items on restaurant menus too.
- Add avocados to your salad or make homemade guacamole. Below is a great and healthy recipe from Central Market:
Total time: 15 minutes
- 4 extra large avocados — ripe, peeled, pitted and diced (about 2 cups)
- 3/4 cup red onion, diced
- 3/4 cup Roma tomato, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped leaves only
- 2 Tbsp Jalapeno or serrano chiles, seeded and minced
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder or one fresh clove, minced
- Coarse salt and pepper to taste
Place avocado in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and blend gently–leaving some small chunks of avocado is fine. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Garnish with red radishes or jicama. Serve with tortilla chips.
Emily Ng, RD, is a Registered Dietitian and recent graduate of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently pursuing a career in sports dietetics and weight loss counseling. Emily enjoys running and playing volleyball, soccer, and flag football in her spare time. You can email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.