What you need to know about dietary fats

What counts as fat? Are some fats better than other fats? While fats are essential for normal body function, some fats are better for you than others. Trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol are less healthy than polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

How much total dietary fat do I need?

Age Group Total Fat Limits
Children ages 2 to 3                                    30% to 35% of total calories
Children and adolescents ages 4 to 18     25% to 35% of total calories
Adults, ages 19 and older                           20% to 35% of total calories

You can meet this recommendation by following a healthy meal plan that meets your calorie needs and is designed to provide 20% to 35% of calories from total fat.

If you have children, you may be concerned about whether they should watch their fat intake. For proper growth, children and teens need healthy diets that provide the recommended fat intakes.

Children less than 2 years of age need more calories due to rapid growth and development. For this reason, nonfat and low-fat milks are not recommended for children two years and under

1. If some fats are healthier than others, can I eat as much of these fats as I want?
No, it’s best to keep your total fat intake between 20 and 35% of your total calories each day.

A healthy eating plan contains between 20 and 35% of calories as fat.

Trans Fat

You may have heard about trans fats recently in the news. These fats made headlines when food manufacturers were required to list them on the Nutrition Facts Label by 2006.

So what’s the story with trans fats? These fats are created during food processing when liquid oils are converted into semi-solid fats — a process called hydrogenation. This creates partially-hydrogenated oils that tend to keep food fresh longer while on grocery shelves. The problem is that these partially-hydrogenated oils contain trans fats which can also increase low-density lipoprotein LDL-cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — risk factors for heart disease.

Though some fried foods and commercially baked goods may contain trans fats, the good news is that some manufacturers have changed how they process foods to reduce the amounts of trans fats in their products. Be on the look out for foods that contain trans fats, such as commercially-baked cookies, crackers, and pies. Some commercial restaurants may also use partially-hydrogenated oils when frying their entrees and side items or preparing baking goods and spreads.

How do I control my trans fat intake?

Here are some ideas on how to reduce the trans fat in your diet:

* Look for the Trans fat listing on the Nutrition Facts label. Compare brands and choose the one lowest in trans fat, preferably with no trans fat.
* Replace margarine containing trans fat with unsaturated vegetable oil.
* If you use margarine, choose a soft margarine spread instead of stick margarine. Check your labels to be sure the soft margarine does contain less trans fat. If possible, find one that says zero grams of trans fat.

Saturated Fat

You may have heard that saturated fats are the “solid” fats in your diet. For the most part, this is true. For example, if you open a container of meat stew, you will probably find some fat floating on top. This fat is saturated fat.

But other saturated fats can be more difficult to see in your diet. In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:

* High-fat cheeses
* High-fat cuts of meat
* Whole-fat milk and cream
* Butter
* Ice cream and ice cream products
* Palm and coconut oils

It’s important to note that lower-fat versions of these foods usually will contain saturated fats, but typically in smaller quantities than the regular versions.

As you look at this list above, notice two things. First, animal fats are a primary source of saturated fat.  Secondly, certain plant oils are another source of saturated fats: palm oils, coconut oils, and cocoa butter. You may think you don’t use palm or coconut oils, but they are often added to commercially-prepared foods, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pies. Solid vegetable shortening often contains palm oils and some whipped dessert toppings contain coconut oil.

How do I control my saturated fat intake?

In general, saturated fat can be found in the following foods:

* High-fat cheeses
* High-fat cuts of meat
* Whole-fat milk and cream
* Butter
* Ice cream and ice cream products

So how can you cut back on your intake of saturated fats? Try these tips:
*   Choose leaner cuts of meat that do not have a marbled appearance (where the fat appears embedded in the meat). Leaner cuts include round cuts and sirloin cuts. Trim all visible fat off meats before eating.
* Remove the skin from chicken, turkey, and other poultry before cooking.
* When re-heating soups or stews, skim the solid fats from the top before heating.
* Drink low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk rather than whole or 2% milk.
* Buy low-fat or non-fat versions of your favorite cheeses and other milk or dairy products.
* When you want a sweet treat, reach for a low-fat or fat-free version of your favorite ice cream or frozen dessert. These versions usually contain less saturated fat.
* Use low-fat spreads instead of butter. Most margarine spreads contain less saturated fat than butter. Look for a spread that is low in saturated fat and doesn’t contain trans fats.
* Choose baked goods, breads, and desserts that are low in saturated fat. You can find this information on the Nutrition Facts label.
* Pay attention at snack time. Some convenience snacks such as sandwich crackers contain saturated fat. Choose instead to have non-fat or low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit.


1. What should I choose — butter or margarine? Should I choose a stick, tub, or liquid?
With such a variety of products available, it can be a difficult decision. Here are some general rules of thumb to help you compare products:

Look at the Nutrition Facts label to compare both the trans fat and the saturated fat content. Choose the one that has the fewest grams of trans fat and the fewest grams of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.

If possible, find one that says zero grams of trans fat.

When looking at the Daily Value for saturated fat and cholesterol remember that 5 percent is low and 20 percent is high.

If you are also trying to reduce calories, you may want to look for a version that says “light.” These products contain fewer calories and can help you stay within your calorie goals.

If you find two products that seem comparable, try them both and choose the one that tastes better!

Text: www.cdc.gov
Image: Flickr Creativecommons norwichnuts