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Dietary fats in your pregnancy diet

The value of fats in your pregnancy diet

Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet, but some fats are better for your health than others. Your goal (whether you're pregnant or not) should be to make sure you get adequate "good" fats in your diet while minimizing the "bad" fats.

Some fats (and the fatty acids they contain) are particularly important during pregnancy because they support your baby's brain and eye development – both before and after birth. Fats also help the placenta and other tissues grow, and studies show that some fats may help prevent  preterm birth and low birth weight.

Which fats to eat during pregnancy

Four types of fat are found in food: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and hydrogenated. A fat is made up of a combination of fatty acids, so fats don't typically fall into just one of these categories. Palm oil and lard, for example, both contain about 50 percent monounsaturated and 50 percent saturated fat. But for the most part, you can follow these guidelines for which fats to avoid and which to eat in moderation:

Monounsaturated fats are found in safflower, olive, canola, and peanut oils, as well as in olives, avocado, nuts, and nut butters. They're considered "good" fats because they're best at lowering cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats are beneficial, too. They contain the omega-3 fatty acids (like DHA and ALA, both of which are crucial for the healthy development of your baby) and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found in some cold water fish, flax seed oil, and canola oil, and omega-6s are found in sunflower, cottonseed, corn, and soybean oils. (Soybean oil, found in many salad dressings and processed foods, also contains some omega-3s.)

Saturated fats fall into the "bad" camp – eat as little as possible of these. Saturated fats are found in high-fat meats, whole milk, tropical oils (such as palm kernel and coconut), butter, and lard.

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats (also known as trans fats) are to be avoided. These fats are found in fried foods and some kinds of margarine. They're also used in some packaged foods – like crackers, cookies, and chips – to extend the shelf life of these products. Read the Nutrition Facts label to find the amount of saturated and trans fat in a product.

A diet high in saturated fat or trans fat can raise your cholesterol and may put you at risk for heart disease. Studies show that saturated and hydrogenated fats may be linked to other health problems, too, such as cancer and diabetes. There's even some evidence linking trans fats to lower birth weights and a higher risk of having a small for gestational age (SGA) baby.

Don't beat yourself up if you indulge in a bag of chips or a plate of fried chicken on occasion. Just make it the exception rather than the rule, aiming for healthy fats as much as possible.b

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