According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over one-third of American adults are obese; another third is overweight but not obese. These 97 million Americans have an increased risk of developing a range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart problems. In addition, they have a higher than average chance of being subject to sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and various types of cancers.

Conventional wisdom dictates that that the consumption of high-fat foods leads to excess body fat. All fats, however, are not created equal, and some may actual assist in weight loss efforts.

The Four Fat Groups

There are four types of fats: saturated fat, transfat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat – known as MUFAs. Saturated fats are considered the “bad fats” because they contribute to weight gain, in addition to being responsible for heart disease, cancer, and other physical ills. They are found in many of the foods that we find appealing. Meats — including high-fat cuts of beef and poultry — and high-fat cheeses, are high in saturated fat. Whole-fat milk, ice cream, butter, and other dairy products also contain a lot of saturated fat.

Trans fat is considered another unhealthy fat source — and is actually worse than saturated fat. It is usually found in baked treats such as cookies, doughnuts, and cakes. Frozen pizzas and pies, microwave popcorn, and coffee creamers are another source of transfat. In addition, French fries, onion rings, and other fried foods, are usually prepared in trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats. Omega 3 and omega 6 are the two primary types of polyunsaturated fat and they both help to prevent “bad” cholesterol from forming in the body. Polyunsaturated fats are generally found in vegetable oils — such as sunflower oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. In addition, fish – including salmon, trout, and herring — are also high in polyunsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, while having the same high-fat content as the other fats, can actually help you lose weight and reduce belly fat. These plant-based fats have been touted in several popular weight loss and fat reduction programs, including the popular Flat Belly Diet, and also the Mediterranean Diet, which was ranked as one of the best overall diets according to U.S. News and World Report.

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