Over the past two weeks we have discussed the importance of Serving Size and proper Fuel. As we move through the Nutrition Facts we stumble upon a controversial topic, FAT. Our society tends to think that fat as “BAD”, and if we eat fat we will become fat! There have been many different fad diets involving fat, so we started creating foods that are Low Fat, Reduced Fat, and Fat Free. Eliminating fat from your diet completely will not benefit you in the long run. Fats are vital to our survival, and without them we would be unable to absorb fat soluble vitamins; A, D, E, K. These vitamins aid in vision, skin health, strengthen bones/teeth, muscle strength, aids in blood clotting, prevention of inflammation and certain types of disease. Fat soluble vitamins are essential to a healthy life.
Let’s begin to address the Nutrition Facts and look deeper under TOTAL FAT. You will find a combination of “healthy” fats (unsaturated fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated), and “unhealthy” fats (unsaturated and Trans fats). When choosing your food of choice, whether it be peanut butter, pasta or beef, remember these Facts about Fats to help guide you.
- Saturated fat is a type of fat that comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as; meats, egg, and dairy products. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (unhealthy cholesterol) levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type II diabetes (1). Food consumption lower in saturated fat can better your overall health and wellbeing. Less than 10% of your total calories should come from saturated fats, so try to limit foods with saturated fat greater than 3 grams per serving.
- Monounsaturated fat is a type of fat found in a variety of foods, including many types of oils. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type II diabetes (1). When shopping, check your Nutrition Facts for foods high in MUFAs to help fight off heart disease and type II diabetes.
- Polyunsaturated Fat is a type of fat found mostly in plant-based foods, such as; avocado, nuts, and seeds. Evidence shows that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. PUFAs may also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids which are especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3s, found in some types of fatty fish, appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. They may also protect against irregular heartbeats and help lower blood pressure levels (1). Finding a food with high levels of both MUFAs and PUFAs would be ideal for protecting your heart health.
- Trans fat is a type of fat that occurs naturally in some foods, especially foods from animals. Nonetheless, most Trans fats are made during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats (healthy fats), creating the name industrial or synthetic fats. This process creates fats that are easier to cook with and less likely to spoil than naturally occurring oils. Research show that synthetic trans-fat can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Make sure to avoid Trans fats as often as possible. Nutrition Facts do not have to show a food contains Trans fats if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving, so be sure to check your ingredients for hydrogenated and/or partially hydrogenated oils.
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Simple guidelines when reading TOTAL FAT on the Nutrition Facts:
- Greater than 9 grams of fat per serving is considered a high fat food item
- Between 5 and 9 grams of fat per serving is a moderately high fat food
- If you see 3-5 grams of fat per serving you are looking at a moderate to low fat food
- Lastly, less than 3 grams of fat per serving is considered a low fat food item
- NOTE: Just because it has >9 grams of fat does not mean it is “BAD” for you. Check the types of fat it contains before you write it off.
- Dietary fats: Know which types to choose: When choosing fats, pick unsaturated fat over saturated or trans-fat. Here's how to know the difference. Feb 11, 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fat/NU00262/NSECTIONGROUP=2