We’ve come a long way nutritionally from the days when all fat was bad. Today researchers and doctors recognize that there’s no reason to tar every fat with the same brush. Instead, they’ve now identified the “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and the “bad” fats (saturated and trans fats).
The good news is that we can now eat certain fats and still be perfectly healthy. And let’s be honest — fats often taste rich and wonderful. The downside? To make smart choices, you have to be conscious now of four types of fats. But there’s an easy way to figure this out. Basically, if a fat is a solid when at room temperature, chances are it’s a bad fat. That would include most animal fats, butter, shortening, and some nut oils. Good fats are usually in fish and plant oils. Remember that, and you are well on your way to choosing the right fats.
Of course, even good fats have their limits. All fats provide your body with 9 calories per gram, more than twice as much as proteins or carbohydrates. And in the end, weight gain and weight loss are about calories. For good health and weight, keep your total fat intake to 30 percent of calories or less, and keep saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories in a day or less. Trans fats? Try to keep them to zero. Here is a slew of ways to follow all of these important health rules:
1. We’ll start with the easiest: Choose low-fat products over regular. Do not accept the argument that low-fat versions don’t taste as good. It’s not true! Low-fat versions may not taste the way you or your family is used to, but after a week or two of using the new version, you’ll stop noticing the subtle decline in richness. Here are the places to start:
- Milk: You need not jump all the way to no-fat; 1% milk is perfectly healthy, but still has that rich milk flavor. Use 2% as a stepping-stone from whole milk, but don’t stop there — 35 percent of the calories still come from fat in 2% milk.
- Ice cream: Most “light” versions taste as rich and creamy as the full-fat versions. We particularly like the Breyer’s line of light ice creams.
- Yogurt: Given that most people eat their yogurt flavored, it is hard to notice the difference between regular and low- or no-fat versions.
- Ground beef: Don’t think that buying fatty ground beef and pouring off the grease makes it fine. Much of the fat is bound in with the meat. Good quality, 90-percent-or-more ground sirloin is leaner and healthier for you.
- Cheese: Particularly mozzarella cheese for pizza. Low-fat versions still have all the taste and texture you so desire.
2. Keep your spreads soft. That means choosing soft margarines, and leaving your butter out of the refrigerator. The softer the spread, the less you’ll use on your toast or bagel, thus the fewer saturated fats you’ll get. Also, remember this: The softer the margarine is at room temperature, the lower the amount of trans fats it contains.
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3. Choose sat-fat-free spreads. It’s amazing what manufacturers can come up with when they put their minds to it. Today you can find butter-like spreads in your refrigerated sections that are low or even free of all saturated and trans fats, and that actually taste good. Good brands to try include Benecol (which will also help lower your cholesterol when used regularly), Canoleo, Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, and Blue Bonnet. All except Blue Bonnet are trans-fat-free; Blue Bonnet has 0.5 mg trans fat per serving.
4. Buy a pretty bottle, fill it with olive oil, then top it with a liquor stop. You know, the kind you use to pour out shots of liquor. Now keep the bottle on your counter in plain view and use it for everything short of frying (olive oil burns at high temperatures). Olive oil is the best oil to use because it contains high amounts of monounsaturated fats and low amounts of saturated fats (all oils contain a mixture of the three: mono, poly, and saturated; the key is the ratio), isn’t too strongly flavored, and is affordable. Buy the deepest green, extra virgin olive oil you can find — the darker the color, the greater the amount of phytonutrients, potent little plant-based cancer fighters.