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The Skinny on Fat: Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

How fats fit into your healthy diet.

The 'Bad' Fats in Your Diet continued...

We're also hearing a lot these days about trans fatty acids, or trans fats. There are two types of trans fats: the naturally occurring type, found in small amounts in dairy and meat; and the artificial kind that occur when liquid oils are hardened into "partially hydrogenated" fats.

Natural trans fats are not the type of concern, especially if you choose low-fat dairy products and lean meats. The real worry in the American diet is the artificial trans fats. They're used extensively in frying, baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some margarines.

Some experts think these fats are even more dangerous than saturated fats.

"Trans fats are worse than any other fat, including butter or lard," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Research has shown that even small amounts of artificial trans fats can increase the risk for heart disease by increasing LDL "bad" cholesterol and decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting trans fat to less than 2 grams per day, including the naturally occurring trans fats. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans fats consumption as low as possible.

Still, eliminating trans fats is not a magic bullet, experts say.

"Trans fat is getting lots of bad press, but it is important to keep in mind the 'big fat picture,' which includes lowering total fat, reducing saturated fat, and engaging in an overall healthy lifestyle," cardiologist Robert Eckel, MD, tells WebMD.

Which Fat Is Which?

Most foods contain a combination of fats but are classified according to the dominant fat. This chart lists sources of the good-for-you unsaturated fats as well as some examples of fats you want to avoid.

 

Saturated Fats or trans fatty acids

Polyunsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated Fats

Butter

Corn oil

Canola oil

Lard

Fish oils

Almond oil

Meat, lunchmeat

Soybean oil

Walnut oil

Poultry, poultry skin

Safflower oil

Olive oil

Coconut products

Sesame oil

Peanut oil

Palm oil, palm kernel oil and products

Cottonseed oil

Avocado

Dairy foods (other than skim)

Sunflower oil

Olives

Partially hydrogenated oils

Nuts and seeds

Peanut butter

Read Labels and Make Better Choices

The best way to keep on top of the fats in your diet is to become a label reader. On the nutrition facts panel, you'll find all the information you need to make healthful choices. Look for foods that are low in total fat and well as in saturated and trans fats. Bear in mind that a product whose label boasts it is "trans fat free" can actually have up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving -- and these can add up quickly.

Here are more tips to help you reduce the total amount of fat in your diet and make sure the fats you consume are the healthy ones:

  • Choose a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Try a vegetarian meal, with plenty of beans, once a week.
  • Select dairy products that are skim or low-fat.
  • Experiment with light and reduced-fat salad dressings.
  • Replace fattier sauces with vinegars, mustards, and lemon juice.
  • When using fats, do so sparingly. Try to use unsaturated liquid oils, such as canola or olive, instead of butter or partially hydrogenated margarine.
  • Limit your consumption of high-fat foods, such as processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and desserts.
  • When cooking, substitute the lower-fat alternative (for example, low-fat sour cream or low-fat cream cheese) whenever possible
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Reviewed on November 01, 2007

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