What’s Good About Unsaturated Fats?
The nutrition label on my bottle of safflower oil lists 1 gram per serving of saturated fat, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 11 grams of monounsaturated fat. What are the relative merits of the unsaturated fats? Edward Goldfrank, Austerlitz, New York
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, responds
Unfortunately, having diabetes at least doubles your risk of heart troubles, so you are wise to pay attention to what you eat for the health of your heart.
What to Know
Unsaturated fats—both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—have heart-shielding effects. They come from plant sources, such as seeds and nuts. A high intake of saturated fats, on the other hand, is associated with higher levels of both total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Saturated fats come from animal sources, such as meat and full-fat dairy foods. Research also links trans fats to an increased risk of CVD. Protect your heart by avoiding trans fats and by replacing some saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Making this type of switch is likely to improve cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.
Polyunsaturated fats include both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is no longer considered a concern, but in general Americans consume too few omega-3s.
Find Out More
For excellent American Heart Association information on heart-healthy fats, start at http://bit.ly/1e8jE3g.
Continue to use the oil of your choice—rather than solid products such as shortening and butter—for cooking and baking. Avoid highly processed foods with trans fats, and limit foods high in saturated fats, such as butter, full-fat dairy, and bacon. Plus:
- Eat fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and herring at least twice weekly.
- Snack on a serving of nuts instead of sweets.
- Add creaminess to a sandwich with avocado.
- In baking, replace 4 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of olive oil or canola oil.
- Check ingredient listings for partially hydrogenated oils, which indicate that at least a trace amount of trans fats is present.
- Consume plant sources of omega-3s often. Choose canola oil, ground flaxseeds, hemp and chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and tofu.
Don’t worry about the type of unsaturated fats—just use them in place of unhealthy saturated and trans fats.