Fat in the Food You Eat: How Does it Fit into Your Diet?

Dietary fat

When thinking of the word “fat,” most immediately think of French fries, cake and pizza. Fat gets a bad reputation, but it’s a necessary part of your diet.

The truth is, fat does contain a high amount of calories (9 calories/gram) and is a source of energy. It also has some important functions, such as:

  • Helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins from food
  • Providing satiety
  • Improving the flavor of food
  • Improving the mouth feel of food

This nutrient is a necessity. We all need it in our diet, but many of us eat too much of it. It’s not hard to do! Many of the foods we enjoy contain high amounts of fat. But when you overdo it, you increase your risk of developing heart disease and hyperlipidemia. Eating too much fat can also affect weight management. Foods containing high amounts are almost always higher in calories, which can lead to weight gain if you eat too much.

When adding fats to your diet, there are a few things to remember.

Not-So-Healthy Fats

Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is found in animal products and full-fat dairy products. It should be limited because it raises your total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that you consume no more than 5-6% of your total calories from saturated fat. This means if you eat roughly 1,500 calories per day, you should take in only around 75 calories from saturated fat, or eight grams.

Trans Fat: Trans fat is mostly made by the hydrogenation of food products while processing. It is found in foods like baked goods, crackers, cookies and margarine. You may see it labeled as “partially hydrogenated fat” on a product label. Trans fat can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your HDL (good) cholesterol, affecting your risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends you limit your consumption of all foods containing trans fat.

Healthier Sources of Fat

Monounsaturated Fats: These are a healthier option and can be used to replace saturated and trans fat. Examples include olive oil, canola oil and sunflower oil. Many nuts and seeds are also good sources of monounsaturated fats. These fats can improve your health by lowering your cholesterol, which will lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Polyunsaturated Fats: These fats can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by lowering your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Examples are found in corn, soybean and sunflower oil as well as fatty fish such as salmon, herring and trout. Some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseed, also contain polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3’s are an additional type of polyunsaturated fat and provides necessary fat that your body can’t produce on its own. They improve lipid levels, depression and other health conditions. You can find them in many of the foods already listed.

Coming Up with a Plan

Even though monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can benefit your body, they also have nine calories per gram. Too much can affect your weight.

Instead of adding these foods into your diet, try substituting them. Swap a full-fat salad dressing for sliced avocado. Trade a snack bag of potato chips for a handful of walnuts (loaded with omega 3’s) and some fruit. Instead of cooking in butter, try olive or canola oil. A few small changes can make big changes to your health!

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