Dietary fat is required to carry out several body functions. It is a carrier for the fat-soluble vitamins and provides certain essential fatty acids. Fat, along with carbohydrates and protein, is also an important source of energy. But an excess of the wrong types of dietary fat is unhealthy.
There are four types of dietary fat:
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
Saturated fats come primarily from animal products, such as meat, milk and cheese. Palm and coconut oils also contain saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fats is linked with an increased risk of heart disease. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from saturated fat.
Trans fats are vegetable oils that are made more solid by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation. Trans fats are found in many products, especially vegetable shortening and margarine. Trans fats lower HDL (good) cholesterol and raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. Low HDL and high LDL levels have been linked with a greater risk of clogged arteries. Trans fats have no nutritional value and should be avoided.
Monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and canola oil) and polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oil, corn oil and safflower oil) are considered healthy fats, when used in moderation. All types of fat have more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein. Use these types of oils for cooking, salad dressing and as a substitute for butter on whole-wheat bread.
Here are a few tips to rebalance your dietary fat intake:
- Limit the amount of red meat you eat.
- Choose low-fat or no-fat varieties of milk and cheese.
- Remove the skin of chicken and turkey before eating.
- Snack on baked pretzels instead of potato chips.
- Decrease or eliminate fried foods, butter and margarine from your diet.
- Cook with small amounts of olive oil instead of butter to cut your saturated fat intake.
- Read food labels to see exactly how much saturated and trans fats are in the foods you buy.