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Oils: The New Food Pyramid

It's true. Oils are one of the main food groups in the new Food Pyramid. Here's the information you need to be sure you're getting the right amount and the right kind of oils.

What Are Oils?

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Some common oils are:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil

Some oils are used mainly as flavorings, such as walnut oil and sesame oil.

A number of foods are naturally high in oils, like:

  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Some fish
  • Avocados

Healthier Oils

Foods that are mainly oil include mayonnaise, certain salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine with no trans fats. Trans fats are strongly linked to heart disease. Amounts of trans fat will be required on labels as of 2006. Many products already provide this information.

Most oils are high in healthier fats called monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and low in unhealthy fats called saturated fats. Oils from plant sources (vegetable and nut oils) do not contain any cholesterol. In fact, no foods from plants sources contain cholesterol.

A few plant oils, however, including coconut oil and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fats and should be limited in your diet.

How Much Oil Should I Get Each Day?

Depending on your sex and age, the amount can range from 5 teaspoons to 8 teaspoons a day. A 60-year-old woman that doesn't exercise needs 5 teaspoons a day. A 30-year-old man who exercises more than 60 minutes a day should get 8 teaspoons a day.

Limit Solid Fats

Most solid fats are high in saturated fats and/or transfats and have less monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Animal products containing solid fats also contain cholesterol.

Trans fats can be found in many cakes, cookies, crackers, icings, margarines, and microwave popcorns. Foods containing partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils usually contain trans fats.

Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol tend to raise LDL "bad" cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. To lower risk for heart disease, cut back on foods containing saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Look for foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, to help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter and shortening. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation. Some common solid fats are:

  • Butter
  • Beef fat (tallow, suet)
  • Chicken fat
  • Pork fat (lard)
  • Stick margarine
  • Shortening

Foods high in solid fats include:

  • Many cheeses
  • Creams
  • Ice creams
  • Well-marbled cuts of meats
  • Regular ground beef
  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Poultry skin
  • Many baked goods (such as cookies, crackers, donuts, pastries, and croissants)

In some cases, the fat in these foods is invisible. Regular cheese and whole milk are high in solid fat, even though it is not visible.

How do I count the solid fats I can eat?

For quick guide on the amount of solid fats in some common foods, click here.

WebMD Public Information from the United States Department of Agriculture

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 12, 2008

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