Fats and Your Diet: What You Need to Know

Lumping all fats into one category—bad—is not the best way to approach this tricky food group. Yes, consuming too many unhealthy dietary fats can set you up for health problems, including weight gain and high cholesterol. But there are several healthy fats that your body needs to function properly. These healthy fats do many things in your body, such as keep your energy levels up, protect organs, and make sure key vitamins are absorbed by your body.

Here’s a quick Fat Guide that should help when reading food labels and planning your meals.

Green light: Unsaturated fat

According to health experts, about one quarter of your total calories should come from unsaturated fat each day. So if you are following a 2,000-calorie- a-day diet, that means, on average, around 500 calories should come from one of the sources below.

  • Polyunsaturated (pohl-ee-uhn-SAH-chur-ay-ted) fats: Good sources of polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, and soy. Polyunsaturated fats actually can help reduce the risk of heart disease by helping lower your cholesterol level. Omega-3 fatty acids, another type of polyunsaturated fat, are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. Plant sources of omega-3 include walnuts and flaxseeds.
  • Monounsaturated (mohn-oh-uhn-SAH-chur-ay-ted) fats: The best sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, along with avocados and most kinds of nuts. Monounsaturated fats also can help lower your cholesterol level.

Yellow light: Saturated fat

You should limit the amount of saturated fats to less than 7 percent of your total daily calories, according to the American Heart Association.

  • Saturated fats: Saturated fats can be found in foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, butter, and whole milk.

Red light: Trans fat

Trans fats should make up less than 1 percent of your total daily calories.

  • Trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils): These can be found in many store-bought baked goods such as crackers, cookies, and cakes, and in deep-fried foods such as doughnuts and French fries. Many margarines and shortenings contain trans fats as well. If you are not sure whether a food contains trans fats, check the Nutrition Facts label. Trans fat will appear under saturated fat.
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