Is there such a thing as good fat? For years we have been told that we should limit the amount of fat in our diets in order to help keep cholesterol levels in check. The fact is, we need some fat in our diet. Fat helps us absorb important vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Are you aware that there are actually several types of fat and that some of them can even have beneficial effects on heart health? Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, can have positive health benefits when consumed in moderate quantities.
Other fats, however, can have a detrimental effect on your heart health. These fats are saturated and trans fatty acids. Foods containing these fats should be used sparingly. All fats, however, are a concentrated source of calories, so they can have a harmful effect on your weight. Fat, in general, should be eaten in moderation. But when choosing foods with fat, choose those higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. So where can you find these fats, both good and bad?
The Types of Fat
Monounsaturated fat can be found in foods such as olive and canola oil, many kinds of nuts, avocados, peanut butter, and high-fat fish like salmon and tuna. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in fish and oils like corn, sunflower, cottonseed and soybean.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol when used in place of saturated fat. They may also maintain or raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Foods like cheese, whole milk, ice cream, butter, creams (such as sour cream), red meats, pork, processed meats like pepperoni, and tropical oils (coconut and palm) are all high in saturated fat.
Your intake of these types of food should be low. Less than ten percent of your total calories each day should be from saturated fats. These fats can cause your blood cholesterol levels to rise, increasing the risk of heart disease. Research also indicates that saturated fats can increase the likelihood of certain forms of cancer, such as prostate and colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Trans Fatty Acids
Trans fatty acids can be found in food that contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The main sources of trans fatty acids in the diets of most people are hard margarines (the stick form in particular), shortenings, some baked goods like cakes, cookies, pastries and/or foods fried in partially hydrogenated oils.
Starting in 2006, food labels are required to state the amount of trans fat per serving.
Reducing the Fat in Your Diet
Here are some tips from the The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 on ways that you can reduce your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol:
- Limit the use of solid fats, such as butter, hard margarines, lard and partially hydrogenated shortenings. Consume most of your fat as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those from fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
- When selecting meat and poultry, and milk and milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat free.
- Eat plenty of whole grain products, vegetables, and fruits daily.
- Use the Nutrition Facts Label to help choose foods lower in fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.