What the Fat?

Do you find yourself getting lost in fat minutia at times? With all the types of dietary fat and confusing terms for fat, it’s hard to keep all the fat facts straight.

Why Should You Care?

Consuming too much dietary fat, especially unhealthy types, might result in weight gain. In addition, high fat consumption could increase your cholesterol level – a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Though high blood cholesterol can be inherited, as was my lucky predicament, monitoring your diet can help lower total blood cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels.

Why take chances?

How much fat?

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big believer in moderation and balance, primarily because this strategy has helped me develop healthy habits and maintain my current body weight for years. I’m also too lazy to count calories. Total calories, as well as recommended grams of macronutrients, vary by gender, height, weight and age, so it’s impossible to recommend the same diet strategy for everyone. To help us out, the USDA recommends the following macronutrient proportions to provide energy for our bodies:

  • 50% of calories from carbohydrates
  • About 30-35% of calories from fat
  • About 15-20% of calories from protein

At first glance, thirty percent of your day’s calories from fat may sound high. Does this mean you can load up on cookies, butter biscuits and whipped cream? Not exactly….

Where’s the fat?

Not all fats are created equal.

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are generally known to be unsaturated: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy buzz word these days, are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Below are examples of each.

Type of healthy fat

Food source

Monounsaturated fat

Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds

Polyunsaturated fat

Vegetable oils (such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils), nuts and seeds

Omega-3 fatty acids

Fatty, cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel and herring), flaxseeds, flax oil and walnuts

(Table courtesy of MayoClinic.com)

Not So Healthy Fats

Less healthy, and even harmful, fats are known as saturated fats and trans-fats (trans fatty acids). These can be found in a number of foods and oils, as shown below:

Type of less healthy fat

Food source

Saturated fat

Animal products (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard and butter), and coconut, palm and other tropical oils

Trans fat

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, commercial baked goods (such as crackers, cookies and cakes), fried foods (such as doughnuts and french fries), shortening and margarine

Dietary cholesterol

Animal products (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard and butter)

(Table courtesy of MayoClinic.com)

What the beef?

According to the American Heart Association, Americans should reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and total fat in their diet. Does that mean you should never eat steak for dinner again?

Though many of these unhealthy fats are derived from animal products, including meat, poultry and seafood, you don’t necessarily have to you restrict these from your diet altogether. It is important, however, to understand other health benefits these products offer, if any. For example, chicken is a great source high quality protein (especially if it is raised in a free-range environment and is antibiotic-free). Salmon is low in calories, high in protein and high in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Likewise, coconut oil, a saturated fat, has a number of health benefits.

Cut the fat

So with all this knowledge in mind, I adhere to my mantra of moderation. And to help ensure I keep my fat intake in that 30-35% range, I have altered my diet to reduce the amount of less healthy fats and total fat!

Here are a few of my ideas to improve the quantity and quality of fats I consume each day.

– Substitute olive oil for butter when sautéing veggies and even poultry and seafood.

– Reduce the amount of butter in almost any recipe.

– Drink skim or 1% milk instead of 2% or whole milk.

– Reduce the amount of cream in recipes, or substitute half and half.

– Use avocados in place of cheese on sandwiches and in salads.

– Snack on nuts instead of chips.

– Bake with canola oil instead of vegetable oil or lard.

– Reduce the number of meals with animal products (I’m trying to cut out one dinner with animal products/week and also eat fewer/no animal products at lunch).

– Make egg white omelets and/or combine egg whites with whole eggs when scrambling them.

– Substitute yogurt and buttermilk for more fatty alternatives like sour cream.

– Give up fried food (the baked substitutes often taste better anyway).

How Fat It Is

And though a chocolate chip cookie or slice of lemon yogurt cake doesn’t exactly offer any benefits (beyond making me very happy), I’ll still indulge in the occasional sweet, as long as my totally dietary fats remain in check!

Melinda Hinson