The Fat Test
Not all fats are created equal. Some fats are better for you than others. When trying to select the best fats for your health, it is important to know some fat basics. There are different types of fats: The two broad categories are unsaturated fats (which are plant-based) and saturated fats (which are animal-based). Choosing the more healthful unsaturated fats can improve your overall health, but making the best selection is not always easy to do in the real world. The following is a short fat primer followed by a quiz of real-world eating situations that will test your fat savvy.
Unsaturated fats 101
Most of the fats you eat should be unsaturated fats, which are divided into two main groups: Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Oils, such as canola or olive oil, are typically the major source of these fats in the diet. Fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds are also sources of these good-for-you fats. In addition to improving overall health, these heart-healthy fats do not raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood and are therefore recommended to help keep cholesterol levels in check.
Saturated fats 101
These fats are found in any animal-based food. This includes meats like beef, pork, and chicken. High-fat dairy foods such as cheeses, cream, butter, and milk are also rich sources of saturated fats. It is best to keep saturated fat intake to a minimum since it can negatively impact overall health and your cholesterol levels.
The fat test - which is the healthiest option?
The following are some scenarios where you have the option of two high-fat foods. Which selection is going to provide you with the healthiest fat?
(Find the answers at the end of the quiz.)
- You are eating at your favorite Mexican food restaurant. Which fajita topper would be the best choice?
- sour cream
- Sitting down for a nice dinner at the local steak house, you are trying to decide on an entrée from the grilled selections. Which do you choose?
- Grabbing a bagel as you run out the door in the morning, what is your spread of choice?
- peanut butter
- cream cheese
- You get the munchies in the middle of the day at work. What do you select from the vending machine?
- trail mix
- baked chips
- While waiting on your pasta to arrive, you start nibbling on some bread. Do you eat it with butter or olive oil?
- olive oil
- You've decided to stick to a light lunch and order a salad full of lots of fresh vegetables. Which of these dressings is going to add an extra nutritional punch to your meal?
- balsamic vinaigrette
- low-fat ranch
Keep in mind that no matter how healthy the fat, it is going to be naturally dense in calories. This means that you need to keep portion sizes of fats small to avoid unnecessary calories which could result in unwanted weight gain.
Check out the article “5 High-Fat Foods You Shouldn’t Avoid,” for a list of the top healthful fats you should be including in your diet.
- B. Guacamole is made with avocados that are full of healthful monounsaturated fat. Sour cream, on the other hand, has 8 grams of saturated fat in ¼ cup, which is equivalent to the amount found in 6 slices of bacon!
- B. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, a specific type of polyunsaturated fat that is thought to be one of the best fats for heart health. Although chicken, especially grilled, is not going to be a bad choice, it doesn't pack the same healthy-fat punch as salmon.
- A. Peanut butter is made from peanuts, and nuts are great source of unsaturated fats (but make sure to read the ingredient list and avoid spreads with bad-for-your-health hydrogenated oils). Cream cheese, similar to sour cream, comes from an animal source, and therefore is higher in saturated fat.
- A. Trail mix is usually full of nuts, which contain lots of heart-healthy fats. Baked chips offer little in terms of fat, good or bad.
- B. Olive oil, like other vegetable oils, is going to have a healthier fat profile than butter. An easy way to remember this is that healthier fats tend to be liquid at room temperature (i.e., oils like olive, canola, and safflower); and not-so-healthy fats are solid at room temperature (i.e., butter, margarine, and shortening).
- A. Balsamic vinaigrette is typically going to have a healthy oil base. The low-fat ranch, even though lower in total fat, is usually made with sour cream and/or mayonnaise and will still have a gram or two of saturated fat. Ranch will provide less of the more healthful fats.