All You Need To Know About FAT

By on July 6, 2013

The calories you eat and drink come from three nutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Depending on the nutrition fad du jour, any one of these nutrients may be on the “bad” list, but the truth is, to stay healthy and energized, you need a mix of all three. The following look at each of these important nutrients helps you make wise food choices.

Getting the real deal on fat

The “fat is bad” mantra has given people the wrong impression. In fact, some medical sources now refer to the lowfat fad as “the great American experiment in obesity.” Some fat is actually good for you, whereas other types of fat clog arteries. The total amount of fat you eat doesn’t seem to especially matter if you’re eating healthy fats and not overeating.

Certain Greek populations of the 1960s got as much as 40 percent of their calories from fat, primarily from olive oil, and their heart disease rates were 90 percent lower than those of Americans at the time. In the following sections, we take a look at the different types of fat.

The bad stuff: Saturated fat and trans fat

Saturated fat is found in animal products, such as beef, pork, chicken, milk, ice cream, and cheese. Trans fats — created through hydrogenation, a process that turns liquid oils into solids — is found in many chips, crackers, cookies, granola bars, and pastries.

Both types of fats raise your risk of heart disease by clogging your arteries and boosting your body’s natural production of cholesterol.

The most recent guidelines issued by the U.S. government call for even lower intakes of these fats than before: a maximum of 7 percent of calories from saturated fat (that’s about 14 grams of saturated fat per day — 2 grams fewer than a Cheese Danish at Starbucks!) and 0.5 percent of calories from trans fats (essentially a call to avoid these fats altogether).

So switch from whole milk to skim, replace butter with olive oil, and cut out fried foods. Trans fats are now banned from foods in many cities, and many major manufacturers have gotten the message and removed trans fats from their products. For example, most microwave popcorn used to be overflowing with the stuff, but now most brands contain little to none.

The good stuff: Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fat is found in plant foods — avocados, olives and olive oil, canola and flaxseed oil, salmon and other fatty fish, nuts and natural nut butters. These fats help protect against heart disease by reducing levels of LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol.

You don’t want to go overboard with these fats because — like unhealthy fats — they have 9 calories per gram, but if you’ve been skimping, top your salad with sliced almonds or avocado, dip your apple in a little peanut butter, or top your breakfast cereal with crumbled pecans.

Particularly helpful are omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, and, to a lesser extent, in walnuts, flaxseeds, and a few other foods. Omega-3s appear to help lower the risk for heart disease, prostate cancer, stroke, depression, and macular degeneration, among other conditions.

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