Figuring Out Fats

Susan Houston

The new year put into effect a nutrition labeling requirement that packaged foods must list the amount of trans fat they contain. But exactly what is trans fat? How bad is it for you? How can you avoid it in your diet? Here’s the lowdown: Total fat Fats are a group of chemical compounds that contain fatty acids ? chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. Fat is where the body stores energy, and it aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenoids (cancer-fighting substances in vegetables). On the good side, fat provides taste, consistency, stability and a feeling of being full. Unsaturated fats are even good for you, when consumed in moderation. Saturated and trans fats are not; both have been shown to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Limit daily fat intake to 65 grams or less (based on 2,000-calorie diet), with no more than 20 of those grams from saturated fat. (Note: A Double Whopper with cheese has 64 grams of fat, 24 of them saturated.) Saturated fat The type of fat that is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, saturated fat is found mostly in foods of animal origin such as meat, butter and whole milk and in foods from plants such as coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter. Limit daily saturated fat intake to no more than 20 grams. (One slice of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake has 29 grams of saturated fat.) Trans fat A type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine, trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, french fries, doughnuts and other food made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. It also occurs naturally in some animal products such as butter, milk, cheese, beef and lamb. Trans fat tends to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which may increase the risk of heart disease. Recommended amount of trans fat intake: Don’t even think about it. Step away from the stick margarine (2.8 grams of trans fat per tablespoon). Polyunsaturated fat Polyunsatured fat is one of the “good” fats. It is usually liquid at room temperature, and it is found mostly in foods of plant origin such as nuts and oils made from soybeans, corn and sunflowers. Monounsaturated fat This is the other “good” fat; usually liquid at room temperature; found mostly in foods of plant origin such as olive and canola oils. As “good” fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are not believed to increase risk of heart disease or blood cholesterol as saturated fats do, but they still should be consumed in moderation because of their high caloric content. Daily unsaturated fat intake should be no more than about 45 grams. That’s about 1 cup of whole almonds or 4 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in the tissues of all animals; particularly high content found in liver, organ meats, egg yolks and whole milk. The body makes all the cholesterol it needs, so you don’t need it in your diet. While saturated fat and trans fat are the main causes of increased blood cholesterol levels, dietary cholesterol also plays a part. Limit daily cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams. There’s 212 milligrams in one large egg and 31 milligrams in 1 tablespoon of butter