The Skinny on Fats
Fats and oils are part of a healthy diet and play many important roles in the body. Fat provides energy and is a carrier of important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids derived from vitamin A. But fat can impact the health of our hearts and arteries in a positive or negative way, depending on the types of fat we eat. Doctors and nutritionists recommend getting between 20 and 35 percent of calories from total fat, with most fats coming from sources of “good” fat, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
Limit saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol. Eating too many saturated and trans fats, or cholesterol, may raise the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. A saturated fat, the type of fat that is solid at room temperature, is found mostly in animal-based food products. A trans fat is made when liquid vegetable oil is processed to become solid. And cholesterol is a fatty substance found only in animal-based products like egg yolks and whole milk. It is important to eat less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fats. How do we figure this out?
For example, if you aim to eat 1,250 calories per day on say the 3X Weight Loss for Women or 3X Fat Loss for Men programs, your daily allowance of saturated fat would be less than 10 percent of 1,250 calories or 125 calories. There are approximately 9 calories in a gram of fat. OK, OK. To make the math easier, we’ll use 10 calories per gram of fat. This at least gives you the right idea. Therefore, 125 calories/ 10 g/cal. = 12.5 g which is less than the 100% DV for saturated fat. The table to the right shows the saturated fat limits for people with various calorie needs. Also, you should keep trans fats as low as possible, and eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. These limits are recommended so you will not consume too much saturated fat and too many calories in your healthy eating plan.
Unhealthy fats such as saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol, are found in many foods. So, look for choices that are lean, fat-free, or low-free when selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk products. But be careful, because food manufacturers will add hidden sugars to “fat-free” or “low-fat” products to make them taste better when the fat is removed or reduced. Remember also to look at the fat in the food label and what is the serving size! Serving size may not equate to “eating size.” An easy and quick way to reduce saturated fats is to trim excess fat from meat and poultry and remove the skin from poultry. Additionally, watch out for foods processed or made with certain oils (for example, palm oil, palm fruit oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil) that increase the amount of saturated fats in the food. Examples of foods that tend to have saturated fats are fatty cuts of meat, whole milk products, cakes, cookies, pies, crackers, candy, candy bars, household shortening, and creamers. Limiting these foods can reduce saturated fats in your diet.
Trans fats are mostly found in food products made with shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (liquid oil that is processed to become a solid fat). Most of the trans fats Americans eat come from cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, fried potatoes, household shortening, and hard (stick) margarine. Look for partially hydrogenated oil in the food label and limit these foods. Limiting consumption of many processed foods is a good way to reduce trans and saturated fats.
The oils we cook with
When we go to buy an oil to cook with, the choices are many and sometimes confusing. The number of choices is great. Below is a table comparing some of the more popular types of oils. Remember, the best choice is monounsaturated with high Omega-3 fatty acid content. Enough though coconut oil is almost 100% saturated fat, it is a healthy oil (solid or liquid) since it contains high amounts of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). The MCTs are not used by our bodies to make fat, but rather, are used directly to be burned for energy.
|Oil||Total Fat||Saturated Fats||Polyunsaturated Fats||Monounsaturated Fats||Comments|
|Canola Oil||14g||1g||4g||8g||1 Omega-3 and 3 Omega-6|
|Coconut Oil||14g||12g||0.2g||0.8g||0 Omega-3 and 0 Omega-6; high in medium-chain triglycerides|
|Corn Oil||14g||2g||8g||4g||0 Omega-3 and 8 Omega-6|
|Flaxseed Oil||14g||1g||10g||3g||7 Omega-3, 2 Omega-6 and 2 Omega-9 (monounsaturated)|
|Grapeseed Oil||14g||1.3g||10g||2.2g||Very low in Omega-3 and very high in Omega-6|
|Olive Oil||14g||2g||1g||10g||0 Omega-3 and 1 Omega-6; high in monounsaturated and high in antioxidants if unprocessed|
|Peanut Oil||14g||3g||5g||6g||0 Omega-3 and 4 Omega-6|
|Safflower Oil||14g||2g||10g||2g||0 Omega-3 and 8 Omega-6|
|Sesame Oil||14g||2g||6g||5g||0 Omega-3 and 6 Omega-6|
|Soy Oil||14g||2g||6g||1.5g||1 Omega-3 and 7 Omega-6|
|Sunflower Seed Oil||14g||2g||9g||3g||0 Omega-3 and 8 Omega-6|
|Wheat Germ Oil||14g||1g||9g||3g||1 Omega-3 and 7 Omega-6|
Nut oils we eat
The fats we get from can also be healthy oils to consume. In addition to good fats, we also get fiber and many vitamins and minerals. The table below will give you an idea of the nutrients and fats that these common nuts provide. These figures are based on an ounce of nuts. It is safe to eat this quantity daily.
|# of kernels/oz||21||23||6-8||18||10-12|
|# of kernels/oz||20 halves||167||49||14 halves|
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20, 2007.
*g = gram; **mg = milligram; ***%DV = percent Daily Value; ****mcg = microgram
¹All of the nuts are unsalted; almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts and walnuts are unroasted; cashews, macadamias and pistachios are dry roasted.
Oils in the fish we eat
There are many fish available to choose from when you shop for fish. Pick a fish that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. You can occasionally eat one that is high in Omega-6s, but remember, Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. Wild caught is better than farm-raised generally, but sustainable farm-raised fish fed an organic diet without antibiotics may be a good choice. Most farm-raised are fed some combination of vegetable and fish oils. Fish oils can accumulate high levels of mercury, dioxins and PCBs which are then fed to the fish. For more information, see Science, 2004, 303(1/9/04) pp.154-155,228.
|Type of Fish||Omega-6||Omega-3||ALA|
|Salmon (farmed Atlantic)**||0.1||1.9||0.05|
|Trout (Lake –pink meat)||?||2.0||?|
|Tuna (canned Albacore)||?||0.5||?|
|Tuna (canned Bluefin)||0.03||1.0||0.02|