Our Dr. Dave Montgomery has officially declared “healthy” the new trend for 2012. But it isn’t always easy to adopt healthy living habits. Part of the reason is because healthy advice from professionals often sounds like computer code.  The “Decoding Healthy” series is intended to translate encoded expert jargon and increase the bandwidth of your practical health knowledge.

Why are certain fats called ‘good’? Does ‘good’ mean I can have all I want?  Remembering the practical answers to these questions will make you the local expert with your friends and help keep your heart happy.

Certain fats are dubbed ‘good’ because of the way your body processes the fat in your diet.  Oil (or fat) and water don’t mix.  And since your blood is mostly water, the body had to figure out a way to transport fat within the blood to use for important organ functions and as a source of fuel.  It does this by using different types of cholesterol to carry the fats in the blood.  Good fat is transported by—you guessed it—good cholesterol, or HDL. HDL is a kind holy grail of cardiovascular health because it reverses cholesterol plaque build-up in arteries, including the heart. Remember: good fat = good cholesterol = reverse cholesterol transport.

Here’s what to look for when identifying good fats: 

1. Name: Good fats are the mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  Polyunsaturated fats, sometimes abbreviated PUFAs,  are typically plant based and may be the best for raising your ‘good cholesterol’ and fighting diabetes.  Fish, flaxseed and krill oils and the oil found in walnuts and soybeans are all polyunsaturated fat.

2. Look: Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are generally (not always) liquid at room temperature.  Read the label.

3. Source: Salmon, trout, herring, krill, avocados, olives, nuts, seeds and liquid vegetable oils.

Keys to optimizing your good fat Intake:

1.     Cook with good fats. The satisfaction that we all get from foods with fat is a consequence of evolution.  Studies show that many mammals prefer the taste and feel of fat.  When you cook with good fats, you satisfy your instinctual urge, while potentially boosting your cardiovascular health.  Good Oils:

  • Olive
  • Soybean
  • Corn
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Canola
  • Flaxseed

2.     Choose more foods with good fat. 

  • Eat more fish!
  • Increase consumption of nuts and seeds: Walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower and other seeds. One serving of nuts is roughly a palm full.  Eat as a snack.  Sprinkle on a salad.
  • Buy breads and crackers that are fortified with sunflower or flax seeds.

3.     Fat is not free.  Keep in mind that fat has the highest calorie content, compared to the other macronturients, proteins and carbs.  When consuming good fat, make sure you account for the calories.  Fat intake should probably not exceed ~30% of your daily calories.

4.     Ask how food is prepared at restaurants.  Listen for the oils mentioned above.  Keep in mind that fast food restaurants sometimes use saturated or trans fat to deep fry food.  (Read more about saturated fat here.)

Dave Montgomery, M.D., Ph.D., is a board-certified physician and EBONY’s Special Contributing Health Editor. You can find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter:@DMontgomeryMD. Send your health questions to [email protected]