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Healthy Fats Vs. Bad Fats: How to Tell the Difference

Jenny Craig

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Staying away from fats is a strategy many people use to lose weight. However, you may actually be doing more harm than good, because there is such a thing as healthy fat and you may not be getting enough of it. Good fats help increase good cholesterol (HDL, high-density lipoprotein), deliver nutrients throughout your body, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and lower bad cholesterol (LDL, low-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride levels. It's important to understand the difference between healthy good fats vs. bad fats for maintaining proper nutrition. 


While all types of fats will expand your waistline, it's best to cut the bad fats and take in the good, in moderation, of course. Fat is a fundamental part of your diet and not getting enough of it can be a detriment to your health. It is important that you are eating enough fat in your diet and to make sure you are choosing the correct fats. The recommended daily value of fat is 20-30%. So, if you are trying to lose weight (about a pound per week), you should be eating 33-50 grams of fat per day (based on a 1500 calorie menu). Now let's dive into how to tell the difference between the healthy and not so healthy fats.


The Bad Fats

Bad fats include trans-fats and saturated fats. These types of fats increase bad cholesterol (LDL), while decreasing good, HDL cholesterol and ultimately increase your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Trans fats are the worst for you. A mostly man-made fat, trans fat is primarily created by taking a healthy oil and turning it into a solid through a process called hydrogenation.


In the early 20th century, it was found only in vegetable shortening and margarine, but then companies started putting trans-fat in everything from cookies to French fries. No level is safe or has any benefit, so food makers are quickly eliminating this nasty type of fat from their products. Be sure to check food labels for "partially hydrogenated oil" to avoid trans-fat in your diet.

Saturated fat can also be considered a “bad guy.” Saturated fat occurs naturally in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) and vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature (palm and coconut oils). It’s best to limit saturated fats to just 10% or less of your total calories, according to the US Dietary Guidelines.


Even though most people know that trans fats and saturated fats are bad, the question still arises, "Is it okay to eat small quantities of bad fats?" As stated above, no level of trans fats are safe to eat. But, on the other hand, saturated fats are not as harmful as trans fats. While they still will negatively impact your health, small portions of these fats are okay, as long as you stay below 10% of total calories. It is recommended to consume saturated fats in moderation though as they are still considered a less healthy fat.


The Good Fats

Healthy, dietary fats are unsaturated, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. These good fats are the ones you want on your team when it comes to keeping your heart ticking, as they lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (the good cholesterol) and decrease your risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower) and walnuts, poultry and omega-3 fatty rich foods, such as fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna), flax and pumpkin/chia seeds.


Monounsaturated fat is solid when refrigerated, but liquid when on your kitchen counter. You'll find this vitamin E rich fat in foods you probably already like, such as olive oil, canola and peanut oils, olives, almonds, hazelnuts and avocados. So pass us the guacamole, please!


How To Spot Good & Bad Fats on Nutrition Labels

Now that we know what bad fats and good fats are, how do you ensure you are getting enough of the good, healthy fats and staying away from the less healthy stuff? A great place to start is by reading the labels of the food you are purchasing. With a few easy tricks you will be able to decipher the healthy vs not so healthy.


On the Nutritional Facts Panel, there will be a section called Total Fat which is further broken up into saturated fat and trans fat. Ideally, you should look for foods with labels that state 0 grams of trans fat and aim for those with less than 20% of the Daily Value (DV) for saturated fat or 2 grams saturated fat per serving.


While the Nutrition Facts Panel does not include amounts of good fats from polyunsaturated/monounsaturated sources, you can read the ingredient list to look for heart healthy fat sources like canola, corn, cottonseed, flaxseed, grape-seed, olive, peanut, soybean, and sunflower oil, as well as nuts like almonds, walnuts and peanuts, seeds that support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


A great step on the pathway to a healthy lifestyle is understanding the ingredients in the foods you are eating. And always remember the 80/20 rule! If most of your choices include lean and low saturated fat choices, there's room for an occasional splurge in your day. Dessert- yes, please!


Healthy Fats & How We Design Our Menu

With the Jenny Craig menu, you can enjoy healthier versions of your favorite foods. Our team of nutritionists and professional chefs work to make sure that the Jenny Craig food is developed with strict specifications for regarding the amount of fat, saturated fat, sodium and added sugar as well as to emphasize the inclusion of vegetables, whole grain/fiber and heart healthy fats.

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