When you’re trying to overhaul your diet and swap subpar snacks for healthier foods (and what greater motivation than harboring a tiny human who, for better or worse, eats what you eat), it might seem like a no-brainer to kick fats to the curb. But before you do, let’s chew the fat about, well, choosing the fats. Read on to learn the good, the bad and the ugly about dietary fats, so you know which to steer clear of and which to add to your shopping cart. Not only are they not all bad, but some—when consumed in moderation—could even be beneficial for your health, not to mention your budding babe’s as well.
1| Fat is essential
Dietary fats (aka fatty acids) are an important part of nutrition. Your body draws energy from fats, as well as proteins and carbohydrates, and some vitamins are fat soluble, meaning they need fat in order to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
2| Moderation is key
What makes a fat good or bad depends on what type of fatty acids a food or oil is composed of. Still, too much fat of any kind can lead to weight gain because all fats are high in calories.
3| Less is more
There are two kinds of so-called “bad” fats that you’ll want to avoid—or at least eat sparingly: saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fats appear primarily in animal-based foods, such as fatty cuts of meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream and sour cream, as well as tropical oils, like coconut and palm oil. Trans fats are found in foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, including fried foods, vegetable shortening, margarine, baked goods and processed snack foods (think chips and microwave popcorn). Both have been shown to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, but trans fats are often dubbed the worst fat for you because they increase the risk three times more than saturated fat.
4| Some good news
“Good” fats can also be divided into two types: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Find the former in nuts (including almonds, cashews, peanuts), peanut and almond butter, avocados, and olive, canola and peanut oils. For the latter, look to fatty fish (salmon, trout, sardines, herring), flaxseed, tofu, walnuts, roasted soybeans, some seeds (sesame, pumpkin and sunflower), and corn and sunflower oils. Research shows adding heart-healthy fats to your diet can improve your cholesterol level and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
5| The big O
For pregnant women, polyunsaturated fats are especially important as they contain a certain type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids, which plays a vital role in baby’s brain, eye and nervous system development, in addition to promoting a healthy immune system and inflammatory response. Furthermore, omega-3s are used postpartum in the making of breast milk. Unfortunately the average American diet is sorely lacking when it comes to this powerhouse fatty acid, but you can boost your stores by indulging in two or three servings of fatty fish per week. Just be sure to opt for low-mercury varieties, which means no swordfish, mackerel or tilefish.
Tip: Before you reach for foods touting “zero grams of trans fats” or “no trans fats” packaging, check the ingredient list. Labeling guidelines allow companies to round down, so it’s best to see for yourself and select non-hydrogenated options.