How to eat fats responsibly

Different fats

Fats and oils contain many different fatty acids that affect the body in various ways. They fall into two main ­categories: saturated and unsaturated fats. Food fats almost always contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and are classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on which fatty acids are present in the greatest concentration. Here are some tips on getting the proper fats into your diet.

How to eat fats responsibly

Saturated and unsaturated fats

Studies show that the type of fat you eat may be as important as how much you eat.

1.  Saturated fats generally come from animal sources — meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. The plant sources of saturated fats are coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. A diet high in saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels.

2.  Unsaturated fats can help lower LDL-cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fats in your diet. There are two types of unsaturated fats: mono­unsaturated and polyunsaturated.

3.  Monounsaturated fats, which are ­liquid at room temperature, have been found to lower LDL-cholesterol levels. They are found predominantly in olive, canola and peanut oils, as well as avocado, some nuts and seeds.

Polyunsaturated fats

There are two kinds of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

1.  Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as flaxseed, walnut and canola oils and some newer products such as omega-3 eggs. These fats help prevent blood clotting, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke. They also help lower triglycerides, which can de­crease your risk for heart disease.

2.  Omega-6 fats are found in foods that come from plant sources and are liquid at room temperature. Food sources include safflower, sunflower, corn oil, some nuts and seeds such as almonds, pecans, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. These fats should be eaten in moderation since they still will contribute to your total calorie intake.

  • The omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your diet provide the two essential fatty acids that your body cannot produce on its own.
  • Omega-3 fats provide alpha-linolenic acid and omega-6 fats provide linoleic acid. These two fatty acids are essential to health and must be provided by foods you eat.
  •  Experts now believe that the ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats in our diets is too high. While omega-6 fatty acids do not increase levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, they may decrease levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.
  • You can shift your ratio by getting more omega-3 fatty acids from fish and other sources.

Trans fats

Trans fats are a particular kind of fat created when a ­vegetable oil undergoes a process called hydrogenation. This process is used to make liquids more solid and is commonly used by industry to prolong shelf life. Trans fats act similarly to saturated fats by raising LDL cholesterol levels.

  • These trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and some margarines. They are also found in a wide variety of ­packaged foods such as crackers, cookies and commercially baked products and in many com­mercially fried foods.
  • Researchers are examining the properties of "conjugated linoleic acid," or CLA. This is a type of polyunsaturated fat that may be very beneficial to health. It is found in small amounts in dairy foods and meat and is also available as a supplement.
  • Preliminary studies have shown that CLA may help reduce body fat, increase muscle mass and even inhibit the growth of certain cancers. More research is needed before an increased intake can be recommended.
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