Monday, March 2, 2009

Fat Facts

If you are like most consumers you know that Trans fats are not a healthful choice but likely you don’t know why that is true or that saturated fats are just as bad.

In order to understand the facts on fats it is best to start at the beginning. Fat is one of the nutrients we need for health and while we refer to fat the real reference is to fats. Fats are a group of compounds made up of fatty acids and glycerol. The fatty acids are the base units of fat and it is there chemical structure that determines if a fat is saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated fats are a type of fatty acid and they are found in animal foods like meat, poultry, whole milk dairy foods and from plant fats including coconut, palm and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats cause the liver to make more of the bad cholesterol, thus increasing the risk for heart disease. In order to reduce heart disease risk it is advised that saturated fats make up less than ten percent of the days calories.

Unsaturated fats are divided into two types; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats, which are found in canola and olive oils, help reduce the bad cholesterol and can boost the good cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats lower both the good and bad cholesterol and are found in corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils.

Trans fats exist naturally in animal foods but are also made when oils are hardened during the process of hydrogenation. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol so they are a contributor to heart disease risk. Current dietary guidelines recommend keeping Trans fat intake as low as possible.

Keeping fat intake in a healthy range and from healthier sources requires label reading and portion control. When it comes to portion control a good guide is where you can see which foods are part of the Oils group and how much is healthful. Label reading requires not only searching for the healthier fats but also noting how much fat is in one serving. If the grams of fat don’t mean much to you look at the % of Daily Value which makes it easier to put into perspective how a serving will fit into a daily meal pattern.

Another helpful labeling tool is to look for terms that reference fat content such as the following.
· Fat Free – Less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
· Low-fat – 3 grams or less of fat per serving
· Reduced or less fat – At least 25% less fat per standard serving size
· Light – 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat per standard serving
· Trans Fat Free – Less than 0.5 grams per serving

Tips for the Week
· Limit animal sources of protein to 5 to 7 ounces, cooked weight, per day
· Choose olive, canola or soybean oils or margarines made from these oils
· Switch to fat free dairy foods
· Read food labels for fat content of processed foods.

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