There are so many messages about fats these days – good fats, bad fats, trans fats. Lately, you’ve probably been hearing more about ‘trans fat’. Before making any decisions about changing your diet, you need the facts about the role of fats in a healthy eating plan. Fats supply the body with energy, provide the building blocks for cell membranes and help the body function properly. They also help the body absorb certain nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. This article will discusses the difference between saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.
Are All Fats Bad?
Not all fat is bad. Certain kinds of fat play an important role in health. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good forms of fat that promote heart health. These fats help lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily total fat intake between 20-35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils (such as canola oil, flax seed oil and soybean oil).
Saturated fats and trans fats can increase blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some people should limit the amount of these fats in their diet. Saturated fats can be found in fatty meat, butter, whole milk and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. You can limit your intake of fats and oils high in saturated and/or trans fats by choosing foods low in these fats, like lean meat, fish and low-fat dairy foods.
What Is Trans Fat?
While trans fats are found naturally in some foods, they are mostly found in foods with partially hydrogenated oils, such as processed cookies, crackers, muffins, potato chips and stick margarine. Since trans fats act like saturated fats in your body, it may be important to limit your intake of foods that have trans fats. About 2.6 percent of the calories in the usual American diet come from trans fats. But, your intake depends on your food choices. By selecting foods carefully, you can lower your intake of trans fats.
Many supermarkets now have some foods that are labeled trans fat-free – with more foods to follow. But, some products that are trans fat-free may still be high in saturated fat, calories or added sugars. Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on the food label for total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, as well as calories and other nutrients. Select foods that will fit into your healthy eating plan.
Why do some baked goods and snack foods contain trans fat?
Several years ago consumers wanted foods that were low in saturated fat and cholesterol. So food companies started using vegetable oils instead of saturated fats in processed foods. But some vegetable oils didn’t work well in many food products. For example, margarine would melt at room temperature and the quality of baked goods was poor. The process of hydrogenating vegetable oil was developed so that oil would function like saturated fat when used in food products. But, this process also causes trans fats to form. Partially hydrogenated oils are the main dietary source of trans fat.
Make smart decisions about the foods in your healthy eating plan.
Learn the facts to make smart choices about the foods you eat. Use the Nutrition Facts label as a guide and if you are on dialysis, ask your dietitian about how much and what kinds of fats you should eat. Remember a healthy eating plan is one that:
- Is low in processed and convenience foods that can add trans fats and extra sodium to your diet.
- Includes a variety of meats, poultry, fish, and other high proteins foods, grains, fruits and vegetables.