The major kinds of fats in the foods we eat are saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fatty acids. Saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol raise blood cholesterol levels. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack.
Limiting the amount of fats in your diet and choosing healthier fats can help to reduce that risk. Here is some information to help you sort it out and make changes that can improve your health.
There are 2 steps to lowering your bad fat intake—Lowering intake of unheathy fats and replacing them with healthy fats.
Foods often have more than one type of fat. As a general rule, foods that have mostly saturated fat are thicker (like butter, lard, or cream), while those that are mostly unsaturated are thinner (like oils). Knowing some basics may help you identify and avoid these less healthy options.
The body uses saturated fatty acids to function, but we eat and drink more than our bodies need. Some of the foods that are rich in saturated fat include:
- Whole milk
- Ice cream
- Whole-milk cheeses
- Meats (like beef, poultry with skin, or lamb)
Saturated fatty acids are also abundant in oils like coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil. These oils will be semi-solid at room temperature.
Many snack foods and fried foods are also rich in saturated fat. Check the Nutrition Facts label to find the saturated fat content of a specific food. Look for oils listed above in the ingredient list.
Fortunately, for many of these foods that are naturally rich in saturated fat, there are low-fat versions. Some taste better than others, so try a variety of them to find ones you like. Use these lower-fat versions or occasionally indulge in smaller portions of regular fat foods.
Also, try to choose naturally lower-fat foods. For example, have fruit and gingersnaps for dessert instead of ice cream. Consider eating fish and vegetarian-based dinners a few times a week in place of meat.
Trans fats are made through a process called hydrogenation. This process takes a vegetable oil, which is naturally high in unsaturated fatty acids and adds hydrogen molecules to it to make it more saturated and more solid.
Trans fats can make food taste good and add texture. You will find them in many processed snack foods. Foods that may contain trans fats include:
- French fries
- Fried onion rings
Look in your pantry and check for trans fats listed on the Nutrition Facts food label. You may also see hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil listed as ingredients. This means the food containstrans fat and should be avoided if possible.
Dietary cholesterol affects cholesterol levels to a much lesser degree than was originally thought and also much less than saturated and trans fats. It is found only in animal foods, not plant foods. Our bodies use cholesterol to carry out necessary bodily functions, but we take in more than we need. Dietary guidelines advise that people consume less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day.
You should not eliminate fats from your diet completely, but you can replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Since saturated fat and cholesterol are often found together in foods, by limiting saturated fat, cholesterol intake will go down as well.
Healthier Fat Options
You can feel good about eating unsaturated fats, in proper amounts. Keep in mind that unsaturated fats still deliver as many calories as the saturated varieties, so keep reasonable portion sizes. There are two types, polyunsaturated and m