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Know Your Fats

Margarine
Photo by Voedingscentrum via Flickr

Fat?  Not that word again! The word fat has such a bad connotation. Many people think of fat only as the cause of obesity, clogged arteries, heart disease and many other medical problems.  While that’s all true, it’s too simplistic of a view.

Too much fat is bad for you.  There is no doubt about that, but eating some fat is actually essential for good health.  We need to consume fat in order for our bodies to function normally.  But, the real question is, how much fat do we need and which ones are the best to consume?

How much fat do we need?
The American Heart Association recommends 25-35% of our total daily calories should come from fat each day, with no more than 30% for people who are overweight.  Most of that should come from unsaturated sources, such as fish, nuts, canola oil and olive oil.  And less than 7% of our total calories should come from saturated sources, such as meat and dairy products.  They also recommend that we get less than 1% of our total calories from trans fats.

Remember that fat is very calorie dense.  Fat supplies 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins only have 4 calories per gram.  That is one reason it is important to limit your intake.  Otherwise, you might see your waistline expanding.  Eating too much fat, whether it is saturated or unsaturated, will cause you to gain weight.  So, moderation is the key!

Why are saturated fats and trans fats bad?
Saturated fats and trans fats are considered to be bad because they are large contributors to rising blood cholesterol levels.

  1. Saturated fats: These fats mainly come from animal sources, such as butter, milk and meat, but they are also found in two vegetable oils (coconut and palm oil).  Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature.  A diet high in saturated fat may raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol level.
  2. Trans fats: These fats are vegetable oils that have undergone a hydrogenation process.  They are also solid at room temperature.  These fats are often found in margarine, cakes, cookies, doughnuts and deep fried foods.  Trans fatty acids are worse to consume than saturated fats because when eaten in excess, these fats will not only raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, but also lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which normally acts to counteract the LDL.

Why are unsaturated fats better?
Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats may lower total blood cholesterol levels, by reducing the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol in the blood.  There are two main types of unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats.

  1. Polyunsaturated fats: Are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator.  These fats are found in fish, safflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil. Polyunsaturated fats may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
  2. Monounsaturated fats: Are liquid at room temperature, but solidify in the refrigerator.  These fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, peanuts, almonds and avocados.

Choosing the right fat
The goal should be to reduce overall fat intake and improve the ratio of unsaturated fats to saturated fats. Here are some suggestions on how to substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats in order to improve that ratio.

  1. Cooking: Instead of using butter, try using olive oil.
  2. Baking: Use canola oil when baking cookies and cakes.  It works better than olive oil because it doesn’t have the strong taste that olive oil does.
  3. At the table: Instead of putting butter or margarine on your bread, dip it in olive oil instead.

The bottom line is to not increase your overall fat intake by adding healthy fats to your current diet, which can lead to weight gain and obesity (another risk factor for heart disease).  Instead, replace the bad fats with an equal amount or less of the good fats.  Remember, not all fats are created equal, so let yours be the good kind!

Comments (5)

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  1. Maria Isabel says:

    I loved to hear that, the way that I cook my food with olive oil, is the best for my family. Last Christmas holidays, I baked some chocolate chip cookies with a very healthy recipe that I got on the internet. They were very tasty! It is great to know that you are doing your best for everybody’s health.

  2. Stephanie says:

    The only bad fat is trans fat (aka partially hydrogenated fat) – it’s synthetically created and has been linked to heart disease, obesity, cancer, and a host of other disgusting ailments. Saturated fats are NOT bad for you…they’ve gotten a bad rap. Our ancestors all feasted on butter, lard, suet, and fat-dense meats, and they were all far healthier than we are!

    BODA weight loss

  3. Talli van Sunder says:

    Stephanie, you are right. Trans fats are far worse than saturated fats. As for saturated fats, research does show that consuming too much can lead to increased cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease. It is better to have a balanced diet with a mix of saturated and unsaturated fat.

    As for our ancestors, some were healthier and some died in their thirties. It all depends on how far back you go. For most of human history, we didn’t eat as much meat as we do now. There were no factory farms and refrigerators to make sure we were all stocked up on ground beef and tasty steaks.

  4. […] why saturated and trans fats are bad for you and why unsaturated fats are better you can read: “Know Your Fats”. The bottom line: A moderate amount of fat is essential for a healthy body.  So, don’t […]

  5. Emily says:

    Don’t forget that there is no known safe quantity of trans fats to eat — ANY amount of it we consume is dangerous! I read labels very carefully now; because the FDA, in its infinite stupidity, says that trans fat can be listed at 0g for a food that contains up to .49g of trans fat, you have to read the ingredients list, instead. If you see “partially hydrogenated” ANYTHING — it’s got trans fat and you shouldn’t eat it in any quantity!

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