There are few words more controversial in America than “Fat.”
We are told it’s bad to be fat, that we should avoid eating fat (unless we’re watching a commercial, in which case we are encouraged to ravenously devour fat)—and many people diet and exercise to “lose fat.”
Healthy fats are typically ones that come from plants, think: olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.
But what exactly is fat? Is it bad? All humans have some degree of body fat, and without it we would die. The healthy range of body fat for men is typically defined as 8-19%, while the healthy range for women is 21-33%. When you consume fat, you are providing fuel not just for your body, but for your mental health, as well. Fish oil, for example, is one of the healthiest fats you can eat due to the Omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3’s have benefits that include: decreased anxiety, decreased depression, a more balanced mood, improved sleep, decreased symptoms of ADHD, and improved symptoms of age-related mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Healthy fats are typically ones that come from plants, think: olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds. These fats are considered healthy because they’re monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which doctors call “good fats.” Good fats can not only lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise good (HDL) cholesterol, but like Omega-3’s, healthy fats can improve your mood.
However, not all fats have health benefits. Trans fats are commonly referred to as “bad fats,” because they are the worst kind of fat you can consume for your health (in fact, artificial trans fats—those not occurring naturally in foods—have actually been banned in this country.) Trans fats include: margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Because manufacturers can include trans fats in foods as long as the fat content is .5 grams per serving or less, it’s important to always read the ingredients of the food you’re eating. One surefire way to avoid bad fats is to stay away from food that lists any kind of “hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients (you can Google the ingredient list of your favorite fast food place to check!) We’ve all heard how trans fats can cause a variety of physical health issues, including heart problems and chronic inflammation; but these bad fats can also reduce serotonin production in your brain, which can lead to depression.
Saturated fats are another type of fat to watch out for, and are incredibly common in the American diet. Some examples of saturated fats you’re probably familiar with are beef, cheese, and palm oil. These types of fats, while less damaging to the body than trans fats, can still increase the risk of heart disease and contribute to symptoms of depression. So, not only do fats hurt your heart, but they can also make you feel like you have a broken heart!
To keep your diet the best it can be, experts recommend that 20-35% of your total daily calories come from good fats, and under 10% of your calories come from saturated fat (and 0% from trans fats!) Stick with healthy fats—not just for the wellness of your body, but for your mind, too.