Adding fish to a diet is one way to incorporate a low-fat protein into meals.

You Are What You Eat: What’s a healthy fat?

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

In a world where items labeled "low-fat" are marketed as healthy, and there’s a new diet craze each month, how should we eat?

First, don’t give in to the most recent diet fad, whatever it may be. And second, don’t assume that "low-fat" is necessarily healthy, or that you should eat one kind of fat exclusively.
It is true that saturated fats (the ones that are hard at room temperature, like butter or shortening) raise blood cholesterol more than anything else in your diet.

Yet one current fashionable diet suggests we eat more coconut fat for better health. But that’s the most saturated plant fat you can buy, and certainly one of the last things I’d suggest people to try as part of a heart-healthy diet. Instead, keep healthy and prevent high cholesterol levels by choosing small amounts of saturated fats and small amounts of fats that are unsaturated.

Contrary to what you might think at first, it’s best to avoid foods labeled "low-fat." With the exception of dairy products, most low-fat foods don’t fill you up, so you just eat more. Lots of low-fat foods also have extra salt added to make them taste better, so you do your heart and kidneys no favors using them. Moderation, in all things, is the key.

Thanks to processed foods, it’s very easy to consume a diet high in fat of all kinds. Be conscious of your food choices. Follow the tips below for heart- and kidney-healthy choices.
• Change up your cooking fat. Try unsaturated canola, corn, olive, sunflower, safflower, sesame, soybean or peanut oil. Butter is saturated, but you can use small amounts to add flavor to foods.
• Use only a small amount of fat for frying, such as one teaspoon per serving, or try a non-stick pan spray. Avoid deep frying.
• Use low-fat yogurt instead of sour cream on your baked potato.
• Enhance the flavor of cooked vegetables with herbs and spices instead of high-fat sauces.
• Try a low-fat salad dressing or marinade on salads.
• Cut down on mayonnaise or try a low-fat mayonnaise spread.

Choose lean cuts of meat with the fat trimmed, such as:
• Beef - round, sirloin, chuck, loin
• Lamb - leg, arm, loin, rib
• Pork - tenderloin, leg, shoulder
• Veal - all trimmed cuts except ground
• Choose lean or extra-lean ground meat
• Use chicken and turkey more often. Remove skin from it to reduce even more fat. Avoid self-basting turkeys that use butter or oil and salt.
• Use fish and shellfish more often. They contain less fat than meat.
• Use cooking methods that help remove fat such as baking, broiling, roasting and stewing. Let the fat drip away from meats as they cook.
• Use canned tuna packed in water, not oil.
• Refrigerate soups, gravies, stews, etc. Skim off the fat before you reheat and serve.

To reduce saturated fat, choose from these low-calorie ideas:
• Use nonfat or 1 percent milk. Even 2 percent milk is a better choice than cream or whole milk (which is really 4 percent milk fat).
• Use light (lower calorie) coffee creamers instead of regular.
• Use low-fat cheese.
• Choose sherbet, frozen yogurt or ice milk instead of ice cream.
• Try light sour cream and cream cheese.
The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The 2013 recipient of National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition’s Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at]

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