Good Fats vs Bad Fats: The big fat picture
Sometimes good people have bad credit, and sometimes they also have bad fat!
Most of us have had to fight a little bit of extra fat at some point in our lives, whether it be the holiday bloat, pregnancy weight or stubborn baby fat. The good news is that not all fat is bad, some of it is good fat and it is very important for living a healthy life. The question now is, what is the difference between good fat vs bad fat?
Good Fats vs Bad Fats
Fat and fatty acids are an essential part of your diet. They provide essential nutrients for your body to get through the process of everyday life, they keep your skin soft and youthful and they are a crucial component in digesting fat-soluble nutrients. However, it’s easy to get confused with identifying good fats vs bad fats.
Essentially, there are two main groups of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are the good guys while saturated fats are likely to blame for your weight gain.
Unsaturated fats: The good fat
For the chemical or technical reader, these are polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids. These fats lower your rates of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. If you have coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke or other heart conditions, these are fats that you should immediately incorporate into your diet! Unsaturated fats also lower your rates of bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Triglycerides are the main form of fat in your blood and they get stored in fat cells, which is what makes you gain weight! The final benefit of these unsaturated fats is the essential nutrients they provide your body, which your body cannot produce on its own.
An example of a popular unsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are well-known for their benefits in heart-health. They’re easy enough to include in your diet as they are found in abundance in fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, catfish and mackerel, as well as flaxseed and walnuts. While there are many omega-3 supplements on the market, it is always advisable to get the nutrient naturally through your diet.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are primarily found in olive oil, so traditional Italian and Mediterranean foods are high in this fat. Another heart-friendly fat, these good fats are high in antioxidants and Vitamin E. If your diet is high in olives, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew seeds, pumpkin seeds, and olive, canola, and peanut oil, you’ve got a healthy dose of these good fats.
Is saturated fat bad for you?
Saturated fat includes artificial trans-fat, hydrogenated oils and tropical oils. You might be asking, “are saturated fats bad?” While everything should be consumed in moderation, these saturated fats are notorious for raising your cholesterol levels, clogging arteries and increasing your risk of the cardiovascular diseases.
These bad fats are mostly found in meat and dairy products, and coconut and palm oil. Men who consume large amounts of saturated fats are especially at a higher risk of prostate cancer.
Are trans fats bad fats?
Trans fats are naturally occurring in meat and dairy; however, these aren’t necessarily bad fats. It’s the artificial type, that are used for deep-frying, baked goods, processed meats and other packaged snacks like chips, that are dangerous.
Research into trans fats has shown that they increase the amount of “bad” cholesterol and reduce the amount of “good” cholesterol. It’s this imbalance of good and bad cholesterol that harms the heart and leads to heart disease.
Facts on Fat
It’s never too late to make healthier choices when it comes to food. The key is knowing the difference between good fats vs bad fats. One needs to replace the other, so let’s break down the differences between the types of fat!
What is a good body fat percentage?
We all need a certain amount of body fat. It keeps us warm, gives us energy and helps the body protect its vital organs. However, having too much body fat is a problem most of us must deal with. There are several factors impacting your body fat percentage, these include:
- Age – The older you are, the more likely you are to have a higher body fat percentage. This is typically due to a decreased metabolic rate.
- Gender – Unfortunately for all the women out there, the stresses of childbearing and hormonal changes mean that women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men. Men typically have 2-5% essential body fat whilst women rank higher at 10-13%. A body fat percentage lower than this is not sustainable and can lead to negative long-term health effects.
A good body fat percentage for those looking to hit optimal fitness levels should aim for 14-17% body fat for men, and 21-24% for women. Men with a body fat percentage above 25%, and women with a body fat percentage above 32%, are considered to be at unhealthy levels.
The best way to measure body fat
- Body-Fat Scales – These scales have a wide price range between AUD $30 and AUD $300. The scales send a small, unnoticeable electrical current from one foot, up that leg and then down the other. Your body fat percentage is then measured by the amount of resistance the electrical current experiences while going through your body. The higher the resistance, the higher the fat. Although these scales have a 3% error gap, it is the easiest way to determine your health in regard to your body fat percentage.
- Caliper Testing – A caliper is a physical fitness instrument that uses measurements of your body’s skin folds to calculate your body fat percentage. There is a little more effort required by this method because you have to measure 3, 4 or 7 sites to get an accurate measurement.
These sites differ between men and women. In men, you would test your chest, abdomen and thighs. In women, you would test the triceps, hips and thighs. This method also has a 3% error gap and generally measures the fat under the skin instead of the overall fat percentage.
- Underwater (hydrostatic) testing – This form of body fat percentage measurement is typically only performed for athletes or during research. The method is based on the theory that fat is less dense than water, therefore people with a higher body fat percentage will be more buoyant. The subject is first weighed on dry land, then asked to get into the water and expel all the air from their lungs.
They must remain motionless underwater while their weight is measured again. The procedure is repeated 3 times and the average result is the one recorded. Using special calculations, their body fat percentage is accurately determined with a small error gap of 1.5%.
What foods are high in saturated fat?
As we continue to look at good fats vs bad fats, we can now look at the foods that come under each category. It is important to limit your daily saturated fat intake to 10%, however this can be difficult to track is you’re unaware of what foods contain these fats. So, how do you determine what foods are high in saturated fat? The best way is to always look closely at the packaging of your food as it should be listed in the ingredients, however, to give you a better idea, here are some of the foods that are high in saturated fats.
- Mass-produced pastries, cookies, doughnuts, pizzas
- Packaged snacks like chips and microwave popcorn
- Stick margarine and vegetable shortening
- Fried foods
- Food with hydrogenated vegetable oil may be labelled “trans-fat free” however they may still contain harmful saturated fats
- Red meat
- Chicken skin
- Full-fat dairy products
- Ice cream
- Tropical oils.
High-calorie foods that burn fat fast
So now that you have a rough idea of what foods to avoid, here are 4 ‘fatty’ foods that you can add to your diet to help you lose weight!
- Almonds – Don’t be fooled by the almond’s small size and plain exterior. They are an excellent source of several nutrients such as Vitamin E and fibre. Even though they have a high caloric content, they’re energy packed and the perfect pick-me-up during that mid-day slump.
- Avocadoes – Another high-fibre carrier, avocados also contain lutein, which is a good memory aid and brain food! If you’re not a fan of avocados, try avocado oil instead. You can add it to your salads or smoothies for that morning boost!
- Olive Oil – It has been proven that including 3 tablespoons of olive oil in your daily diet, be it in your morning smoothie, lunch-time salad or dinner, can reduce your risk of heart disease! If you’re gluten intolerant, olive oil can also help you reduce gastrointestinal inflammation. As an additional perk, olive oil helps you better absorb and digest vitamins and antioxidants!
- Chia Seeds – Alpha-linolenic acid is the main component in chia seeds and a much-needed nutrient! Unfortunately, our bodies are unable to synthesise this fatty acid and therefore, we need to ingest it via our diet. It’s important for brain and heart health and can protect people from strokes!
Chia seeds have also been shown to reduce blood pressure, control your appetite and regulate your blood sugar levels. While chia seeds are best known as great oatmeal enhancers, they can also be used in vegan cooking as egg replacements or thickeners.
That said, it is always important to practise moderation with everything. Too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing quite quickly.
Tips to reduce bad fat
The best way to practise moderation is to make widespread changes in your diet, favouring good fats vs bad fats. We’ve come up with some helpful tips to help you make realistic changes that should be easy to stick to.
- Modify your diet to one that is high in fruits and vegetables.
- Select dairy products that are skim or low-fat (although you should be wary of the sugar content in these products).
- Try out light or reduced-fat sauces and dressings.
- Increase your intake of vinegar, mustard and lemon juice.
- Limit your consumption of fatty and processed foods every day. Don’t fall into the trap of cheat days where you eat a week’s worth of saturated fat in one day!
- Use low-fat alternatives when cooking.
7 high intensity interval training turns (HITT) exercises to reduce fat
When you want to lose weight or burn fat, diet is only 70% the battle. The other 30% comes down to regular exercise. Repeating these exercises for 40 seconds with 20 seconds of rest in between will help you lost those extra kilos in no time:
- Star jumps – Make sure you get those legs in the air!
- The Ice skater – Start in a lunge position, with your left leg diagonally bent behind you and your left hand on the floor. As you get up, swap positions and do the same on the other side.
- Reverse lunge with knee-up – Step back into a reverse lunge from a standing position and tap the floor. Push through with your heel to explode upwards into a small hop. Make sure you get your knee high up in the air. Don’t stop there! Bring your leg back and land in a lunge Then, repeat for the other side.
- Break-dancer – From a push-up position, hover your knees above the floor and rotate your right knee towards your left elbow. Bring your leg back and repeat for the other side.
- High Knees – Make sure you get your knees high in the air and keep up the momentum for the full duration!
- Air jump rope – Pretend you’ve got a jump rope and jump in place while rotating your arms.
- Mountain climbers – Start in a push up position then pull your right leg up towards your torso and bend it at the knee. Switch and do the same motion with your left leg – imagine the floor is the mountain you are climbing. Rotate between your left and right legs at the fastest pace you can go.
So, now you know that not all fat is bad fat, in fact, you need good fat for your body to function normally, so just remember that next time you’re standing in front of the mirror feeling a little down.
While you don’t have to immediately give up all your favourite snacks, it is important to analyse your eating habits. What are the bad fats that you have in your diet? Check your body fat percentage so that you’re informed on your current health status and get expert advice if you’re stuck. The battle of good fats vs bad fats is not easy, but it can be manageable with the right tips and habits!