Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. It provides energy. It helps our guts absorb certain vitamins from foods. But what types of fat should you be eating? Are there any you should avoid? According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, we should choose foods that are full of nutrients but limited in saturated fat.
Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods such as meat and dairy products. Beef, lamb, pork and poultry (with the skin on) contain saturated fats, as do butter, cream and cheese made from whole or 2% milk. Plant-based foods that contain saturated fats include coconut, coconut oil and cocoa butter, as well as palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils). For those 2 years and older, intake of saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories per day by replacing them with unsaturated fats.
Trans fats are created in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Another name for trans fats is "partially hydrogenated oils." Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Trans fats are found in many fried foods. Baked goods, such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers also can contain trans fats.
Unsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated and trans fats. For a healthier diet, select food with unsaturated fats from plants such as in avocados, olives and walnuts and fish such as in salmon, trout, and herring. Unsaturated oils include canola, olive, safflower, soybean and sunflower oil.
Read the Nutrition Fact Label for the fat content of a food. To make an informed decision, choose foods with unsaturated fats and little or no saturated or trans-fat. Recipes are a good place to start. Try recipes that use oil instead of butter, shortening, margarine or lard. Other suggestions include:
- Cut back on foods containing saturated fat including desserts and baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, donuts, pastries, and croissants.
- Reduced the amount of whole milk and full-fat dairy foods and dairy desserts you consume.
- Build meals around protein foods that are naturally low in saturated fat such as beans, peas, and lentils, as well as soy foods, skinless chicken, seafood, and lean meats.
- Switch from butter and cream cheese on your toast to a nut butter or a spread of avocado and a squeeze of lemon. These spread options contain healthier fats.
- Order baked or steamed options instead of fried foods, especially deep-fried foods. A dash of hot sauce or a spoonful of salsa adds flavor without adding fat.
This newsletter has been peer reviewed.