If you have diabetes, you undoubtedly spend a lot of time thinking about sugars and carbohydrates in your diet. But just like everyone else, you should be careful about fat, too. Too much fat can threaten your heart and make diabetes harder to control. But fats aren't all alike. While the fats in fried bacon and ice cream have earned their unhealthy reputation, other types of fat can actually be good for you, as long as you don't eat too much of them. Understanding the difference between good fats and bad is an important step toward healthy eating and healthy living.
Why watch your fats?
Your body needs fat. Fats make up the membranes that surround your cells, and they're an important source of energy. But as a person with diabetes, you'll want to make sure that the fats in your food aren't harming your health. Heart disease and stroke are the number one killer for people with diabetes, and the fats in your diet have a direct impact on your heart. The right type of fats can help lower your blood pressure, encourage healthy heart rhythms, and prevent blood clots, and can even aid in keeping your blood sugar under control.
The different types of fats
There are three main types of fats:
Saturated fats. The types of fats found in meats, dairy products, and some plant oils (including palm oil and coconut oil) are dangerous for your heart and your overall health. Eat too much, and they will raise your LDL ("bad") cholesterol, the stuff that leads to clogged arteries and heart attacks. The American Diabetes Association recommends eating no more than 15 grams of saturated fat each day, which is about equivalent to 2 ounces of cheese, or about a cup of rocky road ice cream, or three-quarters of a cup of fettuccine alfredo.
Unsaturated fats. The fats found in fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados, and other foods can boost your HDL ("good") cholesterol, which helps clear bad cholesterol out of the blood. They can also lower your blood pressure and help keep your blood sugar under control. Omega 3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fats, seem to be especially helpful for brain and arteries. For this reason, the ADA recommends eating fish two to three times a week. The only downside is that these fats -- like all fats -- are high in calories. Even when you're eating healthy fats, you'll need to watch your portion sizes to make sure you aren't busting your calorie budget.
Trans fats. These man-made fats, sometimes found in store-bought cookies, crackers, and margarine, are really bad actors. Not only do they raise your bad cholesterol, they also lower your good cholesterol. Check food labels and avoid them whenever possible.
American Diabetes Association. Good fats and bad fats. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-cholesterol/faqs-fat.jsp
University of California at San Francisco. Diabetes Education online: Good fats, bad fats. http://www.deo.ucsf.edu/type2/health-management/diet-and-nutrition/good-fats-bad-fats.html
American Diabetes Association. Fat and diabetes. http://www.diabetes.org/food-nutrition-lifestyle/nutrition/meal-planning/fat-and-diabetes.jsp
Bettycrocker.com. Fettuccine Alfredo. http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes.aspx/fettuccine-alfredo
Joslin Diabetes Center. Joslin study identifies good energy burning fat in lean adults. http://www.joslin.org/1083_4684.asp
Whitfield J. The need for fat. Nature. http://www.nature.com/horizon/livingfrontier/background/fat.html
Mayo Clinic. Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/trans-fat/CL00032
Haagen Dazs. Rocky road nutrition facts. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/vanilla-ice-cream-875