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Choose the Right Fats

By Michael Sena, C.F.S.
with Kirsten Straughan, R.D., L.D., and Tom Sattler, Ed.D.
Authors of LEAN MOM, FIT FAMILY: The 6-Week Plan for a Slimmer You and a Healthier Family

It amazes me when I see boxes of candy (almost pure sugar) at the movie theater that are labeled as low-fat foods -- as if that makes jelly beans or licorice a health food! But the candy companies realized that we've been incorrectly taught that fat is bad and low-fat is good, even if low-fat means eating too much sugar. I'm here to fill you in on a secret: Fat is not the enemy.

In fact, my plan does away with the notion that you must remove fat from your diet. Instead, I'll show you the differences between healthy fats and unhealthy fats. By including certain "good" fats in your meal plans, you will naturally feel full and gain important health benefits.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

The good: unsaturated fats. The healthy fats are known as unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad type), and improve blood sugar levels. Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts such as almonds.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in foods containing sunflower, safflower, and corn oils. Polyunsaturated fats can also be high in omega-3 fatty acids. These are known as essential fatty acids; your body needs them, yet it cannot produce them, so you must get them from your diet. Omega-3s are very beneficial for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, decreasing blood pressure, and stabilizing blood sugar levels, and they have even been shown to be helpful for mild depression. Foods high in omega-3s include fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.

One thing to remember: Fats are very high in calories. I am not recommending that you drink olive oil or eat pounds of almonds! Watch your portion sizes: A serving of oil is 1 teaspoon, and six to eight almonds will give you all the healthy fats you need.

Keep Reading

The bad: saturated fats. Saturated fat is the fat that can contribute to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It's found in animal products, including butter, eggs, lard, beef, pork, poultry (particularly in the skin and dark meat), processed meats (such as salami, sausage, and pepperoni), and whole-fat dairy products (such as whole milk and ice cream).

The ugly: hydrogenated fats (trans fats). Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats, have been shown to be even more hazardous to your health than saturated fats because they increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your HDL (good) cholesterol. Most fried foods tend to be prepared in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. These unhealthy fats are also found in processed and prepared foods such as cookies, crackers, chips, snack foods, muffins, pastries, frozen waffles, and frozen dinners. The FDA has mandated that all food labels list the amount of hydrogenated fats in a food by 2006.

Margarines can contain hydrogenated fats, but for a healthier option, look for one that says "No trans fats" on the label. Butter is still a better choice because it doesn't contain the chemicals that are usually found in margarine. Ideally, try mixing butter and olive oil in a small bowl for a spread that has the taste of butter with the health benefits of monounsaturated fat.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting hydrogenated and saturated fats to no more than 7 to 10 percent of your daily calories, depending on your cholesterol levels. If you're following a 1,700-calorie diet, you should eat no more than 13 to 17 grams of saturated and hydrogenated fats each day.

Reprinted from: Lean Mom, Fit Family: The 6-Week Plan for a Slimmer You and a Healthier Family by Michael Sena, C.F.S. with Kirsten Straughan, R.D., L.D., and Tom Sattler, Ed.D. (August 2005; $16.95US/$23.95CAN; 1-59486-067-X) 2005 Michael Sena. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

© Michael Sena, C.F.S.
Michael Sena, C.F.S., is one of America's most respected personal trainers and fitness experts. His fitness advice has appeared in USA Today and the Washington Post and on CNBC and CNN's Headline News. He was named one of the 100 best trainers in America by Men's Journal in 2005 and is a founding member of Mayor Daley's Fitness Council. He lives in Chicago. For more information, please visit

Kirsten Straughan, R.D., L.D., is a registered dietitian who has worked in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private counseling, nutrition seminars, and fitness and nutrition television news reports.

Tom Sattler, Ed.D., has chaired the graduate specialization in applied exercise physiology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Dr. Sattler has also supervised training for the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks (1978-1982) and the Chicago Cubs (1982-1988). He is currently the director of education and programming for the Senior FITness division of Alliance Rehab, a Health Resources Alliance company.


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