Dietary fat is required to carry out a number of 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, which differ in their molecular structure:
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
Saturated fats are fats that come almost exclusively from animal products, such as meat, milk and cheese. A diet high in saturated fats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. 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, two negatives associated with 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 do carbohydrates or protein. Use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated 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 nofat 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.
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