"Olive oil is good for you; use as much as you want", "fat
is fattening", "fat causes disease", "a low fat diet
is dangerous", "margarine or butter?". Confused about all
the messages out there on dietary fat? You're not alone. For years we
have been hearing messages cautioning us against high-fat eating while
at the same time both the headlines and your next-door neighbor may have
been telling you that fat is good. Well, they are all correct.
Fat Chitchat: the Good News and the Bad
What many people don't realize is that fat plays a crucial role in maintaining
our health AND that not all fats are "bad". Fat is an important
component of our cell walls & nervous system. It helps to keep us
warm, protects our organs and helps store and transport our fat soluble
vitamins, Vitamins A, D, E & K. Certain fats are needed for hormone
production, neurological development and possibly even disease prevention.
A body without fat would be like a house built without insulation, proper
wiring and sound structure.
Dietary fat also has an important role in the enjoyment of food. Ever
eat an almost-all-carbohydrate meal only to feel hungry again soon afterwards?
Add a little fat to the meal and you'll feel satiated longer; it is fat
that helps us feel full after a meal, not to mention that it's what makes
food taste good, too!
Some research has shown that too low of a fat intake can lead to health
problems such as:
- Adverse changes in blood cholesterol levels by lowering HDL
("good") cholesterol. A low HDL cholesterol level is considered
a cardiac or stroke risk factor.
- Problems with fat-soluble vitamins, compromised hormone production
and potential problems with neurological development.
- Inadequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids. As
we hear more about these polyunsaturated
fats the evidence mounts on their potential role in heart health,
immunity and nerve function.
- Over-restricting fat can forfeit your health by eliminating essential
fatty acids from the diet. The body cannot manufacture these important
fats so you must have a dietary source, which is why they are called
Excessive fat intake is associated with increased disease risk. High
intake of saturated fats is associated with increased
cardiac and stroke risk. Additionally, Hydrogenated
and trans fats act like saturated fats in the body and have been linked
with cardiac risk as well. Overindulging in total fat can affect blood
lipids and may increase risk of certain cancers. Most research on the
role of dietary fat in disease development and prevention looks at fat
intake on balance over time, not whether any one food will cause heart
disease or cancer.
Letting the Fat Out of the Bag: What's the Secret about Dietary Fat?
We know too much or too little fat intake is not a healthy option. So,
how much of which fats is the right amount for a healthy diet? Here are
- Don't eliminate all fats. Your body needs essential fats for important
- Balance out total fat intake to a maximum contribution of 30% daily
calorie intake. Not every single food or meal has to be low fat, but
your diet should be (See your fat gram prescription).
If a fried seafood dinner gobbled up your fat allotment for the day,
balance that out over the next few days by doing things like skipping
the cream cheese on your bagel or that afternoon bag of chips.
- Eat less saturated fat. High saturated fat intake can lead to elevated
blood cholesterol. If you need to trim fat to meet the thirty-percent
rule, whittle away at saturated fat intake. Saturated fats are hard
at room temperature and mostly of animal origin. Fatty cuts of beef
and pork plus whole milk dairy products are examples. Tropical oils,
like palm & coconut oils and cocoa butter found in processed foods,
are also saturated fats.
- Read labels for saturated fat content and keep your average to less
than one-third your total fat intake.
- Remember the "Pie Plate" Rule: keep portions of animal products
on your plate to one-fourth the plate. Plant-based foods get the other
- Choose lean cuts of meat. Trim visible fat and skin from meat and
- Choose low fat and skim versions of dairy products
- Be on the lookout for hydrogenated and trans
fats that mimic saturated fats in the body. Hydrogenated and trans
fats start off as good old unsaturated fats, but processing to make
them hard at room temperature reconfigures their chemistry to become
less than desirable. Look for the words "hydrogenated" or
"partially hydrogenated" on label ingredient lists. Watch
for upcoming new labels that spell out the presence of trans fats. In
the meantime, a rule to remember is "the more towards liquid the
less hydrogenated/saturated the fat" (with the exception of the
tropical oils, of course). Using this rule: a spreadable tub margarine
would have less hydrogenated/saturated fat than a stick margarine or
- Include monounsaturated fats, like
avocados, certain nuts and olive, canola and peanut oils, in your regular
fat choices. These may help protect against heart disease by increasing
- Choose polyunsaturated fats for essential
fats. Plant oils, like corn, sunflower and safflower, contribute linoleic
acid, an essential fat. Deep, cold water fish, like salmon, mackerel,
tuna or bluefish and some seeds, like flaxseed, contain omega-3
fats that are being touted for their potentially powerful disease
prevention properties. Choose an omega-3 fat dietary source a few times
a week. It is not recommended to take fish oil supplements as a source
of these fats as this could lead to blood clotting complications due
to dosages available. If you do choose a supplement, speak with your
healthcare provider about the dose.
- Carefully include good sources of protein, iron and zinc when you
attempting to trim down fat intake. A common mistake when fat is over-restricted
is to axe important minerals and protein from the diet. Good, low fat
sources of protein include lean cuts of beef and pork, skinless poultry,
fish, low fat and skim dairy products and legumes (such as lentils,
chickpeas, kidney beans). Be careful to not solely rely upon dairy sources
for protein, as these foods contain NO iron, a crucial mineral present
in the other protein sources listed.
FAT FACTS: TERMINOLOGY
- Essential fats - needed polyunsaturated
fat, linoleic acid, which our body cannot manufacture itself. Dietary
sources include polyunsaturated vegetable oils. Linolenic acid may also
be known as an essential fat; though our bodies can make this fat, its
supply is often limited. Linolenic acid is found in omega-3 fat sources.
- HDL Cholesterol - high-density lipoprotein
(HDL) is touted as "good" cholesterol because it is the fraction
of total blood cholesterol that scavenges "bad" atherosclerosis-causing
LDL cholesterol in the body and returns it to the liver for breakdown.
Exercising, eating monounsaturated fats and moderate alcohol intake
can help to increase HDL levels.
- Hydrogenated and trans fats - fats which
have been processed to become hard at room temperature or "spreadable"
from previously liquid forms of fat. Hydrogenated and trans fats mimic
saturated fats in the body and can elevate blood cholesterol.
- Omega-3 fats - fats found in deep, cold water
fish, like salmon, bluefish, mackerel, tuna plus in some seeds, like
flaxseed. Much research is focusing on their potential role in decreasing
cardiac risk, and improving neurological and immune function.
- Saturated fats - fats found primarily in foods
of animal origin plus tropical oils (palm & coconut oils, cocoa
butter). Diets high in saturated fat are associated with increased risk
of cardiac disease and some cancers.
- Unsaturated fats - fats found in both plant
and animal foods. Unsaturated fats should comprise the majority of your
dietary fat choices.
- Monounsaturated fats - fats found in
olive, canola and peanut oils, some nuts. These fats may improve your
cardiac risk by increasing HDL cholesterol.
- Polyunsaturated fats - fats found in
plant oils (like sunflower, soybean, corn) and fatty fish. These fats
are sources of important omega-3 and essential fatty acids.
YOUR FAT PRESCRIPTION
Use this table to determine your average maximum daily fat gram intake
based upon your fuel needs. Remember: too low a fat intake is also not
advisable. If you chronically take in less than 20 grams of fat per day,
speak with a Registered Dietitian.
|DAILY FUEL NEEDS (calories)
||FAT PRESCRIPTION (grams)