Healthy foods for a balanced system
Confused about beneficial fats and bad fats? It's hard to keep track of dietary trends and changing medical advice about what products we should incorporate or avoid when it comes to nutrition! We should all be getting enough fat in our diet, though not all fats are created equal. The truth is, you need this component of your diet for energy and vital body functions - so we should learn about the best sources of the nutrient!
Fats can be divided up into two major categories: saturated (unhealthy fats) and unsaturated (beneficial fats). Of the two, the unsaturated fats are considered better for you, since these fats come primarily from plant foods and can help to keep blood cholesterol levels within a normal range. On the other hand, a diet with a lot of saturated fats (found primarily in animal products like butter, cheese, whole milk and meat), can contribute to a rise in cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats can be broken down into two categories: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. You’ll find monounsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, olive oils and avocados. They’re good for you when eaten in moderate amounts.
Polyunsaturated fats can be classified as either omega-3 or omega-6 fats. Your body needs both types but requires a proper balance to promote health. The problem for most of us is that we eat too many omega-6 fats (fried foods, snack foods and sweet baked goods) and not enough fish, nuts, seeds and leafy greens that provide the omega-3s.
Fats and calories
Added fats do introduce calories to your diet. All oils, regardless of their source, have about 120 calories a tablespoon. Just because olive oil is a beneficial fat, doesn’t mean you should pour it all over your food.
Adding good fats to your diet
The foods that contain beneficial fats include nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, seafood and avocados. Here are some ways to work more of these beneficial fats into your day.
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts and pecans are considered tree nuts, which have more heart-healthy omega-3 than peanuts (not actually nuts, but beans). Here are some ways to include more nuts and seeds into your diet.
- • Add nuts and seeds to trail mix.
- • Tahini (sesame seed paste) makes a delicious base for a salad dressing or sauce.
- • Sprinkle nuts or seeds into green salads, on top of cooked vegetables, yogurt or hot cereal, and into your shakes.
- • Finely ground nuts make a delicious crispy coating for fish or chicken. Dip fish fillets or chicken breasts into beaten egg white, then lightly coat with ground nuts. Season with salt and pepper, then bake or saute.
- • Try stirring some nut butter into oatmeal, yogurt or protein shakes; or spread some on apple slices for a quick snack.
- • A handful of nuts make a filling snack.
Olive Oil and Olives
Olive oil is one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fat. If the flavor of extra-virgin olive oil is too strong for you, look for light olive oils that have the same calories as regular olive oil, but are lighter in flavor.
- • Add whole olives to salad, or chopped olives to pasta sauces, or stirred into whole grain dishes after cooking.
- • Use a tiny bit of olive oil to flavor cooked vegetables.
- • Make your own salad dressing with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice or vinegar; salt and pepper to taste.
- • Use olive oil to replace vegetable oils and butter when you cook.
Fish fat naturally contains heart-healthy omega-3.
- • Canned tuna and salmon are super convenient. Top green salad with tuna for a quick meal.
- • Add frozen cooked shrimp or scallops to soups and pasta dishes.
- • Use fish instead of chicken in some of your favorite dishes like tacos or one-dish meals.
Avocados are technically a fruit and a good source of monounsaturated fat.
- • Use mashed avocado as a substitute for mayonnaise in tuna salad or egg salad.
- • Mash into guacamole with a little lime juice and salt; use cut veggies rather than chips for dipping.
- • Try a few slices of avocado in an omelet, or on top of hard-boiled eggs.*
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