For the past few decades, we’ve heard all about the virtues of a low-fat diet and the dangers of dietary fat and cholesterol. But with the number of overweight and obese people climbing every day and statin drugs for lowering cholesterol the most commonly prescribed medications in the world, researchers have recently reviewed the low fat trend.
Emerging research has shown that there is such a thing as healthy fats which can increase your good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol-think H for healthy) and decrease your bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol-think L for lousy).
But with so many so-called “healthy oils and butter substitutes” on the market, how do decide what’s best to buy? What exactly are “healthy fats”?
Here are 24 tips for choosing healthy fats in your diet:
Choose plant-based oils such as olive oil, or peanut oil if you are not allergic to nuts. Plant based oils will not contain cholesterol as compared with animal-based oils such as butter.
Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Mono means 1 and poly means more than 1. These fats are most easily used by the body for a range of important functions and are healthier for you than saturated fats. These will help you feel full and make it less likely that you will eat saturated fats from animal products, such as butter and lard.
Go Mediterranean. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be heart healthy due to the proportion of olive oil used as dressing and cooking oil. Olive oil is actually higher in calories than butter but contains no cholesterol.
Choose natural oils, not ‘lite’ or ‘light’ ones. Some people find the taste of olive oil a bit overwhelming, such as that of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or EVOO. There are different grades of olive oil you can try until you find one that suits your palate. Avoid oils labeled lite or light, however, because those words do not usually refer to the colour of the oil, but the fact that is has been blended with another type of oil, one potentially less healthy for you.
Eat olives. These tasty little foods are the origins of olive oil, so you can get all the benefits of the oil plus a tasty snack for only a few calories per portion. Rinse off the salt water they are usually packed in to make them healthier, and enjoy!
Substitute butter-flavoured coconut oil for butter. Use it as a spread on bread and for cooking and frying.
Eat avocados. These tasty fruits contain a range of heart-healthy fats 75% monounsaturated and 25% polyunsaturated. They are versatile and can be used in sandwiches, salads, Mexican and Tex-Mex meals, and more.
Use guacamole instead of mayo in your sandwiches. Make your own guacamole by mashing fresh avocado with some fresh tomatoes cut into cubes and a squirt of lemon or lime juice. Use your guacamole as you would mayonnaise, on turkey sandwiches, with your tuna salad, and more. Be careful of commercially prepared guacamole, however, as it can often contain unhealthy fats. In fact, some actually contain very little avocado. If you must buy it, be sure to read the label to make sure avocado is listed as the first ingredient.
Eat nuts in moderation. Studies have shown that those who eat 1 ounce of nuts each day have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off. Nuts are not only rich in healthy fats and certain vitamins and enzymes, their fibre makes you feel fuller and aids in digestion.
Try walnuts in your oatmeal. Studies have shown that 8 walnuts a day can help lower you cholesterol naturally. A bowl of oatmeal made with quick oats, water and a dash of cinnamon can help lower it even more.
Cook at home using healthy oils so you can steer clear of artery-clogging trans fats. Healthy oils like peanut, olive and coconut oil give foods a rich flavour compared with the trans fats in store-bought cookies, cakes and other packaged convenience foods. Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen molecules into a range of (usually cheap and unhealthy) oils to make them solid and therefore less likely to spoil as the products they are made with sit on store shelves. Trans fats are damaging to heart health and should be avoided as much as possible.
Add coconut oil to your diet. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but studies have shown it is processed by the body differently than animal-based saturated fats. Coconut oil has been shown to offer a range of healing properties and can improve your digestive health. It is usually solid at room temperature but becomes liquid on warm days.
Use coconut oil in a wide range of tasty recipes, even if you are not fond of the flavour (see the tip about using butter-flavoured coconut oil above_. Coconut oil is versatile and can be used in most forms of cooking and baking; however, some people find the taste too strong or overwhelming in subtly seasoned recipes. If you do not want the strong taste of coconut to be obvious in your dishes, use expeller-pressed or deodorized coconut oil.
Eat macadamia nuts. They are delicious, with a rich, creamy taste and rich in monounsaturated fats and fibre.
Add Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet to improve heart health. Sources include salmon and other fatty fish and sunflower, soybean, walnut, and corn oils.
Boost your Intake of Omega-6 fatty acids in moderation. Omega-6 fatty acids are thought to also aid in heart health, though according to recent studies, too much can be a bad thing. Flax seed is an excellent source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Flax seed has a wonderful nutty taste and texture. Add to cereal or sprinkle on salads.
Choose your cheese wisely. Hard cheeses such as cheddar have less fat than soft cheeses such as Brie or Bleu cheese. If you are going to eat cheese, practice portion control. One ounce of cheese is about the size of two dice. In the grand scheme of things you’d be better off going dairy-free, but if you’re just starting out and are overwhelmed right now, look at this as a goal down the road.
Choose your protein carefully. A lot of people think they have to give up bacon and other tasty meats because they are high in fat. The truth is they can be enjoyed in moderation if you make sensible choices. Try Canadian or back bacon instead of bacon streaked with fat. Also try a homemade ham steak.
The main danger with processed meats like bacon is all the chemicals, salt and preservatives the food industry puts into them. One other concern is over cooked meats becoming charred, which has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men. If you do choose to eat bacon, cook until crisp but not overdone. Use a couple of slices on the side of your eggs in the morning, or as the topping for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich (BLT) loaded with the salad items and a thin smear of mayo or guacamole.
Opt for lean cuts of meat. Many people avoid beef and pork because they consider them to be too fatty. The truth is that there are a lot of lean cuts of meat you can buy in the supermarket once you know what to look for, such as a minute steak or a pork loin. One pork loin can make many meals economically smart, from a roast dinner to stir-fry, tacos, and most other meals in which you would use white-meat chicken. Use portion control to make sure you do not overdo it on the protein and fat. A three-ounce portion of meat is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.
Add lactose-free Greek-style yogurt to your diet. Yogurt is good for maintaining digestive health, adding immune system-boosting probiotics through its active cultures. Studies have also shown that eating yogurt can curb cravings and lead to weight loss. Greek-style yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt for the same number of calories and will also make you feel fuller for longer.
Eat eggs. A lot of people steer clear of eggs due to the cholesterol, but the diet is just one part of the cholesterol picture. We can control our dietary intake of cholesterol to some extent, but skipping eggs can mean we are missing out on all of the protein and valuable nutrients packed into that one small shell, all for only about 70 to 90 calories. Eggs will help you feel full for longer and are highly portable. Boil up a couple so you can have a tasty snack you can take anywhere. Cheese and eggs are the main snacks permitted on a low carb diet because they leave you feeling satisfied for hours after eating, and much less likely to grab sugary foods due to carb cravings.
Choose chocolate. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, such as 70% to 90%, have been shown to contain healthy fats and other disease-fighting nutrients. One ounce a day of high-quality chocolate can satisfy your sweet tooth even as it improves your health. Avoid milk chocolate or white chocolate due to the large amounts of sugar and other added ingredients that dilute the heart-healthy cocoa solids.
If you have been following a low fat diet but are still overweight or struggling with medical issues, try adding some healthy fats to your diet, in moderation. The suggestions above are easy to follow and can make a difference in the way you look and feel.
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