The word alone carries an unsavory connotation: f-a-t. We trim it from meat, strain it from the puddle surrounding an otherwise nutritious roaster chicken, and never, ever want to think of ourselves as (let alone be told that we are) fat. Even the lowercase form of the word sounds like a screamer, as in F-A-T.
This helps explain the skepticism that often greets the news that some fats are actually good for you. Really. Some foods—and six foods or food products in particular—teem with the monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats that your body needs.
And “need” is no overstatement, especially when you consider that fat serves as a vital source of energy for your body. The health experts at Harvard University note that including fat in your daily diet also matters because it “helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement and inflammation.”
If you're trying to develop healthy weight loss meal plans, learning the difference between unhealthy, good and truly healthy fats is simpler than you might think. When you face the facts about fat, you might even be able to change your thinking and regard the consumption of healthy fats as a capital idea.
Health experts continue to debate which is worse: trans or saturated fat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture differentiates the two by noting that "trans fat is created when manufacturers turn liquid oils into more solid fats, like shortening and margarine. Saturated fat occurs naturally in nearly all fatty foods, but mostly in meats, dairy products, and tropical oils, like palm kernel and coconut.”
Reading between the lines, trans fats are usually easier to avoid, especially because saturated fats exist in many popular foods. And trans fats increase only “bad” cholesterol levels while saturated fats raise both “good” and “bad” levels. The bottom line? Both artery-clogging fats are worth avoiding.
Good fats come down to two different types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Good sources of monounsaturated fats include peanut oil, olive oil, canola oil, avocados and most types of nuts. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. These oils are easy to distinguish from their unhealthy counterparts because they remain in a liquid form at room temperature, not solid. Choosing oils carefully is important not only in the healthy stir fry dinners your prepare at home but also in the bottled salad dressings you purchase at the store.
The best, healthiest fats
Omega-3 fats have done their part to give “fat” a respectable if not stellar name. Many studies have shown that people whose diet is rich in omega-3 fats can stem the risk of heart disease and stroke. This may be “old news,” but it remains compelling enough to entice plenty of health-conscious people and those creating weight loss meal plans to reel in the best source of omega-3 fats: fatty fish, especially salmon, sardines and trout. (For people who would rather leave fish off the hook, there are always fish oil pills.)
Add six healthy fats to your menu
Now that's it's easier to distinguish one type of fat from another, it also should be simpler to identify six sources of healthy fats that should be included in your weight loss meal plans:
- Fish, about two 6-ounce portions a week. If you can't muster a taste for those top three choices, rest assured that virtually all types of fish—including swordfish, flounder, halibut and tuna—also teem with healthy fat.
- Extra-virgin olive oil, both in stovetop cooking and drizzled over vegetable and pasta dishes.
- Olives, which are loaded with monounsaturated fats. Pluck them right out of the jar and enjoy a guilt-free snack.
- Avocados, which can be pressed into action for dips and sandwich spreads—after you press them easily under a fork.
- Nuts, which not only make for a healthy snack but also can be crushed and used as a crumb topping for your favorite main dish. (What fish lover could resist a dish of almond-encrusted salmon?)
- Seeds of all types, which also supply calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein. Though high in calories, a small amount of flaxseed, hemp seeds and/or chia seeds can deliver a large amount of omega-3 fats.
- Reach for Meal Plan Magic
While you incorporate these healthy fats in your weight loss meal plans, don't forget to add a little spice to your efforts with Meal Plan Magic. This fresh meal planning tool can help you choose among these six healthy fats at the grocery store and then guide you as you create weight loss meal plans to help you.