Good news: fat not only provides cushion for a bumpy jeep ride, it’s essential for good health. Bad news: excessive intake of the wrong type can lead to serious health problems (plus a few extra pounds). “Maintaining the proper balance of the three types: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (omega 6s and omega 3s) and saturated fats is simple once you identify the good fats from the bad,” explains Dr. Gail Frank of the American Dietetic Association. “However, the proper ratio can be tricky since most dietary fat is a mixture of all three.” For example a portion of grass fed, organic beef is obviously a good source of saturated fat, but it also packs a healthy dose of omega 3s (polyunsaturated) and monounsaturated fats too. For optimal health, strive for 30 percent of our total calories to come from fat; the following is a simple breakdown based on a 2,000 calorie day. Your daily allotment might be higher or lower.
Monounsaturated fats: Aim for 20 percent of your total calories, (300 calories and 27 grams) to come from olive or canola oil, avocados, almonds or peanuts which are high in these ‘good fats’ known for protecting against cancer, heart disease, skin conditions, and in some cases a bulging waist line.
Polyunsaturated fats: Ideally your diet should include 8 percent of total calories (160 calories or 14 grams) of omega 6s and omega 3s at a 1:1 ratio. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most of us. “Because of excessive use of vegetable oils in processed foods our ration of omega 6s to omega 3s is presently 16:1,” says Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, author and renowned expert on Omega 3s. “A healthy diet would be a 1:1.”
Omega 6s: Most of us already overdose on this polyunsaturated fat in the form of safflower, corn and other vegetable oils. In their natural state, these fats help to regulate our metabolism and maintain reproductive performance. However, in excess they take the place of the healthier omega 3s. Try to limit Omega 6s to 4 percent of total calories (80 calories or 7 grams).
Omega 3s: To get enough of this nutritional darling is simple: 5 walnuts a day, sprinkle flax seeds on your morning cereal or dine on northern fatty fish three times a week. Unfortunately most of us don’t get enough of this polyunsaturated fat, a deficiency experts have linked with an increase in neurological disorders, inflammatory disease such as arthritis and a rise in heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. Optimal daily intake is 4 percent of total calories (80 calories or 7 grams).
Saturated fats: Despite the recent trend of limitless bacon and butter, the experts still agree to limit intake to less than 7 percent of total calories, (140 calories and 13 grams) of saturated fats. This equals about a scoop of gourmet ice cream a day. Considering saturated fat can be found throughout our diet blending with other fats, less than 7 percent is quite a challenge.
Transfatty acids: Poly’s in our crackers? Trans fats are good fats (polyunsaturated) gone bad (hydrogenated) used as a preservative and flavor enhancer for most commercially produced baked goods and fried foods. With zero nutritional value, and linked with heart disease, and some cancers, just say “No” to anything made with hydrogenated oils (or do your best to limit them).