When it comes to dietary guidelines, most of us understand that we should increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains we eat. But the rule of thumb for fats can be confusing.

That’s because there are different types of fat, each made up of fatty acids that are more—or less—healthy for us.

What’s the difference between the different kinds of fat?

Saturated and trans fatty acids are found mostly in animal-based products or introduced when a food is processed, whereas polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids naturally occur in oils and other plant-based foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests reducing saturated and trans fats, and replacing them with poly- and monounsaturated fats.

Why are some fats better than others?

Research suggests that unsaturated fats can help us improve blood cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, and absorb key vitamins like A, D, E and K. These fats help build our cells and regulate the body’s essential functions. Trans and saturated fats, on the other hand, can contribute to heart disease.

How much fat should I eat?

Remember that all fats are high in calories, regardless of the type. Dietary guidelines recommend that for adults, no more than 20% to 35% of the daily calorie intake come from fat of any kind, and that we focus those calories on the healthy unsaturated fats.

How do I incorporate fats into my diet?

Stock your kitchen with avocados, salmon, olive oil, eggs and almonds. Keeping a supply of healthy fats at your fingertips makes it that much easier to get your daily requirement, and there are easy ways to integrate these healthy fats into your everyday diet:

  • Cook with these oils: canola, safflower, sunflower and olive.
  • Snack on nuts. Enjoy a 1-ounce (1/8 cup) serving of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or macadamias.
  • Make veggies the star. Toss cooked pasta with zucchini, onion, bell peppers and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil.
  • Add avocado to sandwiches, salad and smoothies.
  • Stir a tablespoon of ground flaxseed into cereal.
  • Grill Omega-3-rich wild salmon fillets, and server over sautéed spinach dressed with lemon juice.

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