Excess fats let yourself in for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. And it is true: Eating too much saturated fat, the kind that found primarily in animal foods can wreak havoc on your arteries, trigger cell damage that leads to tumors, and add unhealthy inches to your waistline.
But unsaturated fat can actually be good for you: The monounsaturated fat in olive oil has been shown to lower cholesterol, so try dipping your bread in a saucer of extra-virgin instead of smearing on butter. But since olive oil is also high in fat, don't go overboard. The key is to find new ways to lighten up on fats without sacrificing flavor or going hungry.
Trans fats are processed fats found in most store-bought cookies, crackers, fast foods, and stick margarines.A 2002 report from the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that trans fats contribute directly to heart disease and higher levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol. There is no safe level of trans fats in the diet.
To reduce fats
The first step is to recognize them. Regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration that went into effect in 2006 require food companies to include trans fat content on food labels. You can also look for the words "hydrogenated," "partially hydrogenated oils," or "fractionated"
on the nutrition label. These terms are dead giveaways for trans fats, since the vast majority come from hydrogenation.
The second step is to eat good fats (canola oil and olive oil) and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables to 5-9 servings a day. Pay special attention to nutrition labels for cookies, crackers, processed foods, and fast foods, and avoid as many as possible that contain partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats. Substitute a tub of soft margarine made with canola for stick margarine, and try having fresh fruit for dessert more often. You might try making cookies with canola oil rather than buying the store-bought variety, and if you have a yen for crackers, buy crackers made with olive oil .
Vegetables can be delicious without much help from fat if you buy them as fresh as possible and don't overcook them. Try using peanut oil to stir-fry green beans and summer squash, adding a few drops of sesame oil to steamed broccoli or bok choy, or brushing a little olive oil on bell peppers and eggplant before you throw them on the grill or under the broiler. Saute spinach in a little broth and splash with balsamic vinegar. Toss coarsely chopped carrots, potatoes, yams, and parsnips with olive oil and sea salt and roast them for half an hour. Spoon a small dollop of chili or curry paste into a tomato-based veggie stew or experiment with fresh herbs like basil, tarragon, rosemary, and dill.
Eating fish at least two times a week, especially fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon. In addition to being high in protein and lower in saturated fats than red meat, these types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help protect you from heart disease and may alleviate depression.
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, and some research indicates that salmon may contain unhealthy levels of certain toxins. To be on the safe side, read our article on Safe Ways to Prepare Fish.