Saturated Fats vs. Unsaturated Fats: What’s the Difference and Can You Still Eat Pizza?

CPK-2-683x1024

Photo courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen

March is National Nutrition Month so what better time to take stock of the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and most importantly, how they impact your health?

Let’s start with the basics. According to a report by the Harvard School of Public Health, the myth about the benefits of a fat free diet is exactly that. Furthermore, rather than a blanket elimination of  all fats, you should focus on the type of fat consumed on a daily basis—along with total calorie consumption.

So, how to tell the good from the bad? Well, bad fats, also known as saturated fats, may cause the risk factors for certain diseases such as diabetes to go up. Good fats, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are proven to have healthful, positive impacts on the body. That’s great, you may be thinking, but what’s the difference between the two? And must I give up pizza? The good news is, if the pizza is heavy on a plant-based foods and olive oil, then no, you don’t have to abandon you (or your kids’) favorite meal!

Saturated fats are most often found in animal-based foods like meat and dairy products. Whole milk, cream, butter, ice cream, beef, chicken with the skin, these foods all contain large amounts of saturated fat. Baked goods and fried foods can also contain saturated fats, depending on their ingredients. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have diabetes, it’s essential to cut down on saturated fat consumption as it can lead to elevated cholesterol levels. Remember, saturated fats become solid at room temperature.

While most of the connections between saturated fat consumption and increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease have been debunked, the true key to good health comes with replacing saturated fats with good fats, especially polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory, improve cholesterol levels, and stabilize heart rhythms. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include: avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil. Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include: sunflower, corn, and soybean oil, walnuts, flax seeds, and fish. Unsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature.

The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in unsaturated fat, has been shown to reduce heart disease risks by 30 percent. But Americans, at least, still have a ways to go towards reduced saturated fat consumption. At this point, a reasonable goal is 8 to 10 percent of calories from good fats.

Increase your consumption of unsaturated fats, without giving up flavor, bymaking plant-based salad dressings, whipping up dips for bread and crackers from extra virgin olive oil and consuming more fish and nuts.

At the end of the day, make an effort to choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats whenever possible. Your heart—and the rest of your body—will thank you!