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Understanding Fats

We all have heard about good and bad fats, mostly we think of fat as bad. The truth however, is quite different. Fats and oils make up 25 to 50 percent of the caloric intake of modern man. Generally speaking, if at room temperature, the substance is a liquid it is called an oil, and if it is a solid it is called a fat. Our bodies need fat, in the correct amounts it is a major contributor to our well being. That may be why our liver also manufacturers it. Once upon a time, fat was hard to come by. Not so today!

Knowing which fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and which ones don't is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat, trans-fatty acids and dietary cholesterol raise blood cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats don't.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your saturated fat intake to 7 - 10 percent of total calories (or less) each day. If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, your doctor should recommend a diet for you. It will recommend 25 - 35 percent of calories from fat, with less than 7 percent coming from saturated fat. Cholesterol is limited to less than 200 milligrams a day.

How will you recognize Saturated Fat?

Saturated fat is found mostly in foods from animals and also a few plants. The animal fats come from meat products and the animal byproducts of milk such as cheese and butter. The plants are usually tropical and they include coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, this group is frequently called tropical oils. Another such food is cocoa butter. These plant fats are frequently found in candy bars and sweets, but are also cheap ways to add taste to many products. You will find them listed on the label.

What are Hydrogenated Fats?

When man began the artificial processing of food, he was able to manipulate fats using a chemical process called hydrogenation. This is how margarine and shortening came to be. These fats also raise blood cholesterol. Use hydrogenated fats only if they contain no more than two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. The saturated fat content of foods should be listed on the label. Get in the habit of reading labels at the grocery store. If a food doesn’t conform to your diet, don’t bring it home.

What are the Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats?

These are once again fats found primarily in the plant kingdom. They are the oils from plants. The Polyunsaturated fats come from safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds, corn and soybean, many nuts and seeds. The seeds are pressed and the oil extracted.

The Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive and peanut oils, and in whole avocados. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in your diet. The secret, however, is moderation. All fats should be taken in small quantities. These fats should be used to replace Saturated fats.

The Good News

The market place has finally caught up with science. You can now go into a grocery store and stock up on fabulous low fat foods. Because people like you demanded better, healthier products and food labeling that was honest and understandable, you do not need to feel deprived on a healthy fat diet. But, a word of caution, when reading the labels on low fat foods, be aware that many carbohydrate calories have been added to make the food taste better. If you are tracking your diet and your intake, you simply need to make intelligent choices. At least today, you have choices.