Nutrition for Everyone
August 11, 2008
What counts as fat? Are some fats better than other fats? While fats are essential for normal body function, some fats are better for you than others. Trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol are less healthy than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
We also have a page on Controlling Fat in Your Diet.
You may have heard about trans fats recently in the news. These fats made headlines when food manufacturers were required to list them on the Nutrition Facts Label in 2006.
So what's the story with trans fats? These fats are created during food processing when liquid oils are converted into solid fats -- a process called hydrogenation. This creates partially-hydrogenated oils that tend to keep food fresh longer while on grocery shelves. The problem is that these partially-hydrogenated oils contain trans fats which can also increase low-density lipoprotein LDL-cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol -- risk factors for heart disease.
The good news is that some manufacturers have changed how they process foods to reduce the amounts of trans fats in their products. Be on the look out for foods that contain trans fats, such as commercially-baked cookies, crackers, and pies. Some commercial restaurants may also use partially-hydrogenated oils when frying their entrees and side items.
For more, see Controlling Your Trans Fat Intake.
You may have heard that saturated fats are the "solid" fats in your diet. For the most part, this is true. For example, if you open a container of meat stew, you will probably find some fat floating on top. This fat is saturated fat.
But other saturated fats can be more difficult to see in your diet. In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:
It's important to note that lower-fat versions of these foods usually will contain saturated fats, but typically in smaller quantities than the regular versions.
As you look at this list above, notice two things. First, animal fats are a primary source of saturated fat. Secondly, certain plant oils are another source of saturated fats: palm oils, coconut oils, and cocoa butter. You may think you don't use palm or coconut oils, but they are often added to commercially-prepared foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pies. Solid vegetable shortening often contains palm oils and some whipped dessert toppings contain coconut oil.
For more, see Controlling Your Saturated Fat Intake.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that's found in animal-based foods such as meats, poultry, egg yolks, and whole milks. Do you remember the other type of fat that is found in animal-based products? That's right -- saturated fat.
So, when you follow the tips to reduce your saturated fat intake, in most cases, you will be reducing your dietary cholesterol intake at the same time. For example, if you switch to low-fat and fat-free dairy products, you will reduce your intake of both saturated fat and cholesterol.
Most of the fat that you eat should come from unsaturated sources: polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. In general, nuts, vegetable oils, and fish are sources of unsaturated fats. The table below provides examples of specific types of unsaturated fats.
Controlling Fat in Your Diet
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.