Get the Facts on Healthy Fats

Fats have often gotten a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating. But not all fats are created equal. In fact, healthy fats and oils are an essential part of the South Beach Diet. Not only do fats provide fuel for many of your body’s basic functions, they also add flavor to food and help to keep you feeling satisfied. The key to staying healthy and shedding pounds is to choose the right fats in the right amounts.

Good fats are the unsaturated fatty acids, which are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and they have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats — omega-3s and omega-6s. Both of these are called essential fatty acids because the body cannot make them and they must be obtained through food sources or supplementation to help keep normal body functions running smoothly. Omega-3s have been shown in epidemiological and clinical trials to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Studies have also shown that eating a diet rich in omega-3s can help to lower the bad blood fats known as triglycerides. Omega-6s are considered good fats only when consumed in moderation and in proper proportion with omega-3s.

Here's the scoop on healthy fats:

  • Monounsaturated fats. You'll find these fats mainly in olive, peanut, avocado, and canola oils. Monounsaturated oils are the preferred choice on the South Beach Diet, especially canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil.

     

  • Omega-3 fats. These polyunsaturated fats are found in all seafood, but especially in fatty cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring. They are also found in some nuts, such as walnuts; in flaxseed and other seeds; and in extra-virgin olive oil. Be sure to limit your intake of seafood high in mercury and other contaminants, and consider taking a fish-oil supplement like krill oil if you don't eat fish at least twice a week.

     

  • Omega-6 fats. These polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and sesame oils and also in grains. A healthy diet should consist of roughly two to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, but our typical North American diet contains 11 to 30 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, largely because we eat a lot of omega-6-rich corn oil and a lot of grain-fed beef in this country. So be careful with your intake of omega-6s.

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