Fats are another vital part to a healthy diet. Good fats are needed to nourish your brain, heart, nerves, hormones and all your cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails. Fat also satisfies us and makes us feel full. It’s the type of fat that matters in addition to how much you consume.
Saturated fats, primarily found in animal sources including red meat and whole milk dairy products, raise the low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Substitute lean meats, skinless poultry, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish and nuts. Other saturated fat sources include vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and foods made with these oils.
Trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), as well as lowering HDL, or good cholesterol. Trans fats are created by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. Primary sources of trans fat are vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Monounsaturated fats - People following traditional Mediterranean diets, which are very high in foods containing monounsaturated fats like olive oil, tend to have lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Primary sources are plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil. Other good sources are avocados; nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans; and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats – These includes the Omega-3 and Omega-6 groups of fatty acids which your body can’t make. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in very few foods – primarily cold water fatty fish and fish oils. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood and help prevent dementia. See below for more on Omega-3. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats are sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, and walnuts. It is important to know that these oils become unhealthy when heated due to the formation of free radicals, which can lead to disease.
How much fat is too much? It depends on your lifestyle, your weight, your age and most importantly the state of your health. Focus on including Monounsaturated fats and Polyunsaturated fats in your diet, decreasing Saturated fats, and avoiding Trans fats as much as possible. The USDA recommends that the average individual:
Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)
Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2 grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet)
Limit cholesterol to 300 mg per day, less if you have diabetes.