People generally like the taste of high-fat foods, as the aroma and flavor fat adds to food can be difficult to resist. As a result, many people choose to make food selections that are high in fat. Although most food items we consume contain various types of dietary fat (the type of fat we get from our food), some types of dietary fat are better than others.
Dietary fats do provide many benefits to our body:
- They contribute to satiety (feeling full after a meal).
- They give our body energy.
- They support cell growth.
- They help protect our organs.
- They help keep our body warm.
- They help our body absorb certain nutrients and produce important hormones.
However, dietary fats can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The better fats tend to be more liquid at room temperature (such as liquid vegetable oil) and can lower bad cholesterol levels, when consumed in moderation.
- Monounsaturated Fat – Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. They can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood, therefore decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke, if they are consumed in moderation and when used to replace saturated fats or trans fats. Monounsaturated fats also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells, and are high in vitamin E. Food items high in monounsaturated fat include vegetable oils (i.e. olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil), avocados, peanut butter, and various nuts and seeds.
- Polyunsaturated Fat – Polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and when they are chilled. Like monounsaturated fats, they can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood, therefore decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke, if they are consumed in moderation and when used to replace saturated fats or trans fats. Polyunsaturated fats also contain essential fats (fats that your body need but can’t produce itself – they must be obtained through food), such as omega-6 and omega-3. Food items high in polyunsaturated fat include vegetable oils (i.e. soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil), fatty fish (i.e. salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout), and various nuts and seeds (i.e. walnuts and sunflower seeds).
Bad fats tend to be more solid at room temperature (like a stick of butter) and raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood.
- Saturated Fat – Saturated fat occurs naturally in food and is normally solid at room temperature. Food items that contain saturated fat are also high in cholesterol, therefore raising your cholesterol levels and placing you at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Food items that tend to be high in saturated fat occur include meat and dairy products, baked goods, and fried foods.
- Trans Fat – Like saturated fat, trans fat also tends to raise your cholesterol levels, which in turn increases your risk of heart disease. Trans fat also lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Trans fat is produced when a food manufacturer takes a vegetable oil and adds hydrogen to it. In other words, liquid oil is made into solid fat, like shortening and hard margarine / butter. This process, called hydrogenation, increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of food containing these products. Trans fats are found in food items such as crackers, candy, cookies, and fried foods. The FDA requires that food labels contain the amount of trans fat in each serving. However, if the trans fat in a food item is less than 0.5 grams per serving, then the amount of trans fat does not have to be listed on the label. Therefore, it is important to read the ingredients on the label to see if the food item really does contain trans fat. The ingredient list will reference shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
RECOMMENDED DAILY LIMITS FOR FAT CONSUMPTION
Calorie Value of Fat: (1 gram fat = 9 calories)
|Type of Fat||Recommended Daily Limit|
|Monounsaturated Fat/ Polyunsaturated Fat||25 – 35 percent of the total calories you consume in a day|
|Saturated Fat||Seven percent of the total calories you consume in a day|
|Trans Fat||One percent of the total calories you consume in a day|
Example for Determining Your Daily Limits (based on a 1800 calorie/day meal plan): To determine the maximum amount of saturated fat you should consume daily, multiply 1,800 calories by 0.07 to get 126 calories, then divide 126 by 9 (the number of calories per gram of fat), to get 14 grams of saturated fat. Therefore, if you are on a 1800 calorie/day meal plan, you should not consume more than 14 grams of saturated fat per day.
When making food choices, try to choose food items that contain the healthier types of fat, but remember to consume them in moderation.