Which Fats Are Good For You?

Dr. Mariambi Hassan, General Physician, Aster Medical Centre, Doha – Qatar 

It is a common misconception that one should reduce all fat from their diet in order to stay fit. In fact, some fats actually promote good health and wellbeing. Dietary fats provide energy to the body and supports extensive cell growth. They play an essential role in protecting organs and keeping the body warm. Fats also help in absorbing nutrients and produce hormones which are good for the body.

A typical diet is made up of different types of fat and one should focus on eating foods that contain healthy, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and reduce eating saturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats

  • This fat is typically found in Avocados, nuts, and vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, and peanut oil.
  • Eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats may help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats may also keep "good" HDL cholesterol levels high.
  • Eating more unsaturated fats without cutting back on saturated fat does not lower your cholesterol. Hence, saturated fats should be eliminated from the diet altogether.

Polyunsaturated fats

  • This type of fat is mainly found in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. Polyunsaturated fat is also the main fat found in seafood.
  • Eating polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat may lower LDL cholesterol.
  • The two types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods from plants like soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. 
  • They are also found in fatty fish and shellfish as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in liquid vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
  • Salmon, Anchovies, Herring, Sardines, Pacific Oysters, Trout, Atlantic Mackerel, and Pacific Mackerel are high in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury.
  • A healthy diet includes 2 servings or more, of these types of fish, every week.

How to reduce intake of saturated fats?

  • Swap butter, lard, ghee and coconut and palm oils with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils and spreads.  
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and make sure you trim any excess fat and remove the skin from chicken. 
  • Instead of pouring oils straight from the bottle, use a spray oil or measure out your oils with a teaspoon. 
  • Read food labels to help you make choices that are lower in saturated fat. 
  • Grill, bake, steam or boil your foods instead of frying them.  
  • Make your own salad dressings using ingredients like balsamic vinegar, low fat yoghurt, lemon juice, and herbs, with a dash of olive oil.
  • Use semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk rather than whole or condensed milk. 
  • Cottage cheese, ricotta and extra light soft cheese are examples of lower fat cheese options. Remember that many cheeses are high in saturated fats so keep your portions small - matchbox sized. Opt for strongly flavored varieties and grate it to make a little amount go a long way.