Your body needs a certain amount of fats in order to function properly. However, eating too much fat, especially unhealthy fats, can have an adverse effect on your health. Learn about which fats to avoid and which to consume in moderation.
What are the different types of dietary fats?
Saturated fats are also called “solid fats” because they are typically solid at room temperature. They are generally found in animal products such as cheese, cream, lard, and butter, although some plant-based foods such as coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fats.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends restricting calories from saturated fats to 5%-6% of the total calorie requirement a day. That means that you need to consume 2,000 calories a day, no more than 100-120 calories should be from saturated fats. Because all types of fats provide 9 calories per gram, this equates to restricting saturated fat consumption to 11-3 grams a day.
Saturated fats can lead to obesity and heart disease. They increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL; bad) cholesterol levels in the body, leading to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. High consumption of saturated fats is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes and certain types of cancer such as prostate, colon, and breast cancer.
Trans fats are considered the worst type of fats for your health. The AHA suggests that trans fats should be avoided as much as possible because they do not provide any health benefits.
Some food manufacturers use trans fats to attract consumers because they are relatively inexpensive and add taste and texture to foods. However, trans fats can lead to unhealthy weight gain, high blood cholesterol, and increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer.
Read labels when buying packaged products, and choose foods that are “trans fat-free.” Avoid buying foods with labels that mention partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, as these may contain some trans fats. Keep in mind that even if the amount of trans fats per serving is low, having multiple servings increases the amount of trans fats you are consuming.
Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and typically found in plant products. They are good for your health when consumed in moderation because they help increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL; good) cholesterol and lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which in turn can lower your risk of developing diseases such as heart problems, high blood pressure, and arthritis. Unsaturated fats are also great for the skin, hair, nerves, and brain.
The AHA recommends deriving 8%-10% of your daily calories from polyunsaturated fats. This translates to 160-200 calories or 17-22 grams of polyunsaturated fats a day.
Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:
- Monounsaturated fats: Help lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol levels and are generally found in nuts, olive oil, canola oil, and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Help lower LDL cholesterol levels and are generally found in seafood and some oils of plant origin such as safflower, unhydrogenated soybean, corn, sesame oi, and sunflower oil. They are further classified as omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are also called essential fatty acids because the body cannot make them on its own.
Foods high in fat to avoid
These foods are rich in bad fats, namely, saturated and trans fats and should be avoided:
- Deep-fried foods (French fries, fritters, chips)
- Cakes, muffins, cookies
- Ice cream and other frozen desserts
- Red meat (steak) and processed meats (bacon, sausage)
- Chicken skin
- Butter, margarine, lard
- Palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil
- Fast foods (burgers, pizza)
- Cheese, particularly hard cheese like cheddar and Parmigiano
Foods high in fat to eat in moderation
These foods are devoid of trans fats, low in saturated fats, and high in polyunsaturated fats and should be consumed in moderation:
How to reap the benefits of fat in your diet
While eating too much fat can be harmful, you shouldn’t completely eliminate fat from your diet. Fat plays important roles in our bodies, including synthesis of certain hormones, vitamin D synthesis from sunlight, maintenance of cell structure, nerve and brain functioning, temperature regulation, protection of muscles and organs, and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, D, E and K) from the gut.
To gain the benefits of fats without harming your health, aim to:
- Restrict total fat consumption to 20%-30% of your total daily calorie requirement (about 55-65 grams a day for 2,000-calorie diet)
- Restrict saturated fat consumption to 6% of your daily total calorie requirement.
- Avoid consuming trans fats
- Opt for unsaturated fats
- Eat more vegetables, whole grains, and fruits
- Choose healthier cooking oils such as olive oil, safflower oil, and canola oil
- Choose healthier cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, sautéing, and boiling
- Avoid red and processed meats
- Limit the consumption of high-fat salad dressings
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REFERENCE: CDC. High Blood Pressure. Updated: Nov 13, 2017.
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