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Fat: Friend or Foe?

Understanding the fats we eat, and choosing the right ones

Fat is seen as a villain in our culture. Magazines dish about celebrity weight gain. First Lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her signature issue. And our grocery store shelves seem to be bulging with low-fat meals, snacks and treats.

Is fat really all that bad? Actually, no. It turns out that there are different types of fats, and while there are some bad fats you should surely avoid, your body actually needs healthy fats to create energy.

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The types of fats you should stay away from are saturated fats and trans fats. Often found in pre-packaged cookies, pizza, candy bars, some packaged snack foods, and stick margarine, these fats will raise your cholesterol levels, which ultimately increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

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The fats your body needs are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut, and sunflower oil, as well as avocados and nuts, can actually improve your cholesterol levels and help your body maintain consistent insulin and blood sugar levels. Polyunsaturated fats, found in soybean and corn oil, as well as tofu and fish, can decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

One type of polyunsaturated fat you’ve probably heard a lot about is omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are key to heart health. They help lower your blood pressure, avoid irregular heartbeats, and cut your risk of coronary artery disease.

On the hunt for the right fats, the Nutrition Facts label is a great place to look. You’ll see the Total Fat, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat numbers listed right below the Calories. Choose the foods that have the lowest amounts of Saturated Fat and Trans Fat.