Fat, as a group, gets a bad rap; but the truth is not all fats are bad for you. In fact, a small amount of fat is important for a healthy diet and body. Fat is a major source of energy and helps our bodies to absorb important vitamins and minerals. It is used by the body to build cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves, and is also essential for blood clotting, muscle movement and inflammation. Fat is a necessary component for your body; however, not all fats are created equal.
Fats can be broken down into three separate groups: saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. Of the three, trans fats should be avoided at all cost. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to increase their shelf life. They raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol level while lowering your good (HDL), increasing risk of heart disease. They’re often found in fried foods, processed snacks and baked goods. Daily trans fat consumption should be as close to zero as possible. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is forcing food companies to phase them out of their products.
The difference between the other two groups (saturated and unsaturated) is in their molecular structure. Saturated fats lack double bonds between individual carbon atoms, while unsaturated fats have at least one double bond. Due to this difference, most saturated fats are solid at room temperature while unsaturated tend to be liquid. Of the two types, saturated fats in your diet are more worrisome. It is well accepted that saturated fats raise the blood lipid level, including cholesterol, but it is unclear whether risk of heart disease is increased. The science is split with both sides still agreeing that saturated fat intake should be limited. A diet high in saturated fat can increase risk of type 2 diabetes. Sources of saturated fat include fatty cuts of meat (beef and lamb), some pork and chicken products, dairy, and coconut and palm oils.
Fat is a necessary nutritional component for your body; however, not all fats are created equal.
Unsaturated fat can be broken down into two main types. Consuming monounsaturated (plant-based) fats can lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Foods highest in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. The second type, polyunsaturated fats, are needed for optimal body function. Your body does not make this type of fat and it must be acquired through diet. The best sources of polyunsaturated fats are fatty fish (tuna, salmon, trout), flaxseed oil, soybeans, oysters, sunflower seeds, canola oil, corn oil and safflower oil.
A healthy diet would contain unsaturated fats, some saturated fats and zero trans fats. Saturated fat should be limited to less than 6% of daily caloric intake or 120 calories of a 2,000-calorie daily diet.
How to Read a Food Label
In order to limit the amount of “bad” fat in your diet, it is important to read and understand the nutrition information labels on the food you buy. The nutrition label was created in 1973 to better inform the public about food’s nutritional value. The label includes the calories, total fats, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, inherent vitamins and minerals and more.
The first item on the food label is serving size and this refers to the amount of food in the package that most people eat. It is NOT a recommendation of how much of the food a person should eat. Serving size is important because all of the following information on the label reflects serving size. For example, if the serving size is 1 cup and 2 cups are consumed, then the information on the rest of the label should be doubled for accuracy (if it was 100 calories per serving, 200 were actually consumed).
The calorie count provides a measurement of how much energy you gain from consuming a serving. One calorie is equal to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. The recommended daily calorie consumption is 2,000.
Total Sugars represents the amount of natural sugars present in nutritious foods and any added sugars. Added Sugars include those that are added during processing of the food. It is recommended to avoid foods high in added sugars.
This information refers to key nutrients, the majority of which are measured in “Percent Daily Value (%DV).” Percent Daily Value represents the amount the nutrient in one serving contributes to a total daily diet. This can help you determine if a food is low or high in a nutrient with 5% considered low and 20% or more considered high.
When choosing foods to include in your diet, it is best to avoid trans fats and added sugars, and to limit the amount of saturated fats. Foods high in dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium should be considered. They are nutrients that Americans do not get enough of in their daily diet.