Beth Janes, SELF Magazine
We owe fat an apology. It's been vilified for so long, and now it turns out that the stuff may fire up our flab-burning furnace, silence our cravings and power us to a strong, lean body. Still, we don't want you going all Paula Deen on us, so you've got to know some key facts. Read on to discover the "bad boy" nutrient's healthy side.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)
The Lowdown: Nuts, avocados and canola and olive oils are rich in MUFAs, often the most common fat type in our diet, says William Lassek, M.D., coauthor of Why Women Need Fat.
Friend: MUFAs help control hunger and blood sugar, says Wendy Bazilian, R.D., coauthor of The SuperFoodsRx Diet. Plus, they may turn on genes that trigger fat burn.
Daily Goal*: Up to 30 percent of your daily calories, or about 60 grams, can come from fat, and MUFAs should make up the lion's share of that. Go for 30 g to 50 g per day.
Related: 20 Superfoods for Weight Loss
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats
The Lowdown: Of the three main O-3s, EPA and DHA (in seafood, grass-fed meat and some eggs) are the stars; ALA (in soy, walnuts, flaxseed and more) is beneficial but B-list.
Friend: Bump up your O-3 intake and everything could get better: blood pressure, heart health, even your body's fat-burning ability.
Daily Goal: At least 450 milligrams per day on average of EPA and DHA combined, which you'll get from two 4-ounce servings of salmon per week.
Related: Foods That Fight Belly Bloat
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats
The Lowdown: O-6s work with O-3s to regulate immune function. They're ubiquitous in the American diet: Vegetable oils, fried and packaged foods and baked goods have them.
Frenemy: When balanced by O-3s, they're good. But O-6s often dominate our polyunsaturated fat intake, and this unbalanced ratio may lead to inflammation and weight gain.
Daily Goal: Only 12 g, or 6 percent max of your calories. To get there, demote processed and fried items to treat status and fill up on healthful food-produce, nuts and whole grains.
Related: Yoga Moves for Flat Abs
The Lowdown: Solid at room temp, most "sat fats melt in your mouth, which makes them irresistible," says Eric A. Decker, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Acquaintance: Experts have long thought eating sat fats upped heart disease risk, but some recent studies show the link isn't so clear. For now, eat them in moderation.
Daily Goal: From 14 g to 18 g at most. That's 7 to 9 percent of total calories. A McDonald's Double Cheeseburger gets you close with 11 g; an ounce of dark chocolate has 7 g.
The Lowdown: TFs help preserve foods and extend shelf life. They're in some fried dishes and packaged goods. (That's how those months-old cookies stay fresh.)
Foe: They have no redeeming healthful qualities. Research suggests diets high in trans fats may be linked to weight gain, heart disease, belly fat and depression.
Daily Goal: Zip, zilch, zero. Labels can claim no trans fat if a product has less than 0.5 g, so read the ingredients list. If you see partially hydrogenated, put the item back on the shelf.
*Based on a healthy woman eating 1,800 calories per day.
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Beth Janes, SELF Magazine