Remember when all fats were bad? (This was around the time that jelly beans were viewed practically as a health food.) Fortunately for your taste buds—and your heart—that idea largely went the way of 8-track tapes. (The exception is for people with near total occlusion of an artery.) But there's still confusion about which fats to invite to your table and which need a bouncer.
Here's all you need to know:
  • Embrace the "uns."
    There are two kinds of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The ones that help you stay healthy are omega-3 fats—polyunsaturated—found in canola oil, walnuts, walnut oil, avocados, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil. Many people believe other unsaturated fats, such as the omega-9s that are prominent in olive oil and other nuts, also help you avoid aging. Notice a theme in these good fats? Right: They all come from plants, and many plant-based fats are heart healthy.
  • Watch the ratio.
    The subject of fat is very complex, but at the risk of stopping your reading because you think we're geeks, we'll go into it a little bit: Many docs believe you should avoid omega-6 fats from soybeans, safflower and corn. Many experts on fat believe that omega-6s do not help you stay young. This area is as controversial as how many decks of cards a gambling casino uses in blackjack. But there does seem to be an ideal, and that's an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of at least 1 to 4. The typical American diet is 1 to 20. Translation: We eat way too many omega-6 fats.
  • Shun the solids.
    Unhealthful saturated fats are found in products from four-legged animals—most red meats, luncheon meats, butter, full-fat cheese—and also in palm and coconut oils. A key way to spot these fats: They're generally solid at room temperature. Need something to spread on your sandwich? Skip the butter and try a moist flavor-booster such as mustard, hummus, avocado, tomato sauce or a crushed-olive tapenade.
  • Turn your back on trans.
    Trans fats are fats that have been hydrogenated, a process designed to keep fats from spoiling and becoming rancid. While hydrogenating works—trans fats keep foods stable at room temperature, increasing a product's shelf life—these processed fats have turned out to be the unhealthiest of all. They raise lousy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL. Exactly the opposite of what your body wants. Our bottom line: Omega-3s make your physical age younger than your calendar age, so include a handful of walnuts and maybe some other nuts in your daily diet. Cook with as little fat as possible, and use canola oil when you do. Include fish oils and avocados in your diet.
Most scientists—but not all—include olive oil in the healthy group. Saturated fats and trans fats definitely turn on some genes that make your body age, so avoid them in order to keep your RealAge as young as it can be. And omega-6 fats sneak into so many foods that it's worth trying to avoid oils rich in them (soybean, safflower, corn and vegetable blends).

Finally, all fats make you feel fuller longer—but you need only 70 calories' worth (six walnuts, for example) to release cholycystokinin (CCK), a hormone that works on the brain to decrease the desire for food. After you eat 70 calories of fat on an empty stomach, it takes about 25 to 30 minutes for CCK to kick in. Dr. Mike's favorite technique: Munch on a few walnuts or have a bit of avocado on a celery stalk, a glass of water, a glass of your favorite wine and a 30-minute walk prior to dinner.

And keep in mind that even healthful fats are high in calories, and calories still count. Enjoy, but not in excess.

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