There has been a lot of hype about dietary fat in the past few decades, and as Americans become more concerned about their health, fat has been a big topic of conversation. So what’s the big deal about fat, and what do all of the different terms mean?
First of all, fat is calorie-dense. Of the major components that make up the diet—fats, carbohydrates, and protein—fat has the most calories, which means that eating excess amounts of it can lead to weight gain. Secondly, not all fats are created equal. We do need some fat in our diets to help our bodies function properly, but some fats, like saturated and trans fats, tend to have negative effects on health in the long term. So-called “healthy fats,” which are unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are less damaging over time and can actually have positive effects on health when eaten in moderation.
In order to help further understand these terms and what they mean, here is a breakdown of the fats we have mentioned:
The general recommendation is for no more than 30 percent of your daily calories to come from fat (no matter which type of fat it is).
Found mostly in foods that come from an animal. Examples include red meat, eggs, butter, cream, milk, and cheeses. There are some plant sources of saturated fat as well, including coconut oil and cocoa butter. Saturated fats can raise a person’s blood cholesterol level and increase their risk for heart disease or stroke.
Found mostly in processed foods which use margarine or shortening in their preparation, such as cookies, croissants, or frosting. Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats are found in animal products like red meat, butter, and milk. Trans fats can raise blood cholesterol, and are thought to be the most harmful type of fat due to their imbalanced chemical structure.
Found mainly in fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. These fats may help lower blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated or trans fats.