Good News! Good Fats Are for Real
Use this simple guide to get more of the fats your body needs.
For years, fats were demonized for making us just that—fat. The good news is the name of this essential macronutrient may be simply an unfortunate misnomer. Some fats are actually good for us—and essential to our diets.
While it’s true that fats are higher in calories —9 in a gram versus 4 in an equivalent amount of protein or carbohydrates—not all fats are harmful. Unsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, are vital to many body functions, such as building cell membranes in the brain and improving blood cholesterol levels. They may even protect against heart disease and stroke.
Here’s how to get these beneficial fats into your diet:
- Use the right salad dressing. Choose dressings made with olive or canola oil. These fats actually help your body absorb the beneficial nutrients in the leafy greens and other vegetables in the salad, according to a 2012 Purdue University study.
- Get nutty. Nuts are a good source of unsaturated fats. Walnuts and almonds, for instance, are considered nutritious options that are also easy to sprinkle on salads, in yogurts, and into stir-fries. A good amount to aim for is ¼ cup a day.
- Make fish a staple. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are fats that have been linked to heart and brain health. In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (put out by the USDA) recommend eating fish at least twice a week. So next time you’re torn between the sandwich options on your favorite bread at Panera, consider going with the tuna.
- Go green. Dark leafy greens like spinach, romaine and kale (even the herb basil) contain a form of omega-3 fatty acids known as ALA. These tasty vegetables also provide vitamins and fiber.
- Add avocado. If you can, squeeze avocado into your diet. Whether used for guacamole or a topping on your sandwich or in your salad, avocado is a tasty way to get more monounsaturated fat.
A green light on fats doesn’t mean to indulge in all kinds. Watch your intake of the unhealthy varieties—saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. You’ll need to get into the habit of checking Nutrition Facts panels to help you keep a tally. You can find Panera Bread nutrition information on our site. In addition, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans offers these recommendations:
- Limit your total fat intake to between 20 and 35 percent of your total calories each day, with most fats coming from good-for-you sources such as fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
- Limit your saturated-fat intake to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. So if you eat 2,000 calories over the course of the day, no more than 200 calories, or 20 grams, should come from saturated fat. Saturated fat is found mainly in foods from animals (beef, poultry, dairy products, and so on); you’ll also find it in tropical oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.
- Keep your artificial trans fat intake as low as possible (there is no Percent Daily Value for trans fat). If the ingredient list includes “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil, you’re consuming trans fat.