Monday, May 6, 2013

Saturated Fat Vs. Trans Fat

Fats have certainly gotten a bad rap in the past few years. The new health craze has pushed for even more low-fat products.  But then again, some fats are good. This back and forth on fat sure makes it hard for consumers to know what to eat. Yes, you do need fat in your diet. It is essential for hormones, insulation, and protection of your organs from damage. The truth is that you do not need as much fat as you think. Also, the quality of the fat you eat is important. I am just going to focus on the two major harmful fats, Trans fat and Saturated fat. The healthy fats, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated, will be covered later. 

What Are Saturated Fats?
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products and are typically solid at room temperature. Their chemical makeup consists of carbon atoms that are saturated with hydrogen atoms (hence the name "saturated" fat). The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats to less than 7% of total calories. If you are consuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet, your intake of saturated fat would be less than 16 grams. 

Where Do You Find Saturated Fats in Foods?
Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. Some examples include fatty beef, pork, and poultry with skin. Saturated fat is also found in butter, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products made from whole or 2% milk. Many baked and fried foods contain high levels of saturated fats. 

Why Are Saturated Fats Harmful?
Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. This increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown that saturated fat may also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

What Are Trans Fats?
Trans fats are made during food processing through the partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats. Hydrogenation basically means that hydrogen atoms are added to the carbon atoms. This process creates a product that is less likely to spoil, which increases the shelf-life of many foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your trans fat intake to less than 1% of your total calories. If you are consuming a 2,000 calorie per day diet, your intake of trans fat would be less than 2 grams. 

Where Do You Find Trans Fats?
Trans fat is found mainly in processed foods. Examples include cookies, crackers, cakes, some stick margarines, fried foods (donuts, French fries), chips, candy, and frozen dinners. When reading nutrition labels, look for the words "partially hydrogenated" in the ingredient list. Any oil that is partially hydrogenated is a trans fat. Be aware of the "0 Trans Fat" products. The FDA allows that phrase to be on any product with .5 grams of trans fat per serving. Since many people do not stick to serving sizes, they may be consuming more trans fat than they think. 

Why Are Trans Fats Harmful?
Trans fats raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol, a double whammy! Trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Trans fat also increases blood triglyceride levels, which leads to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Studies have also shown that trans fat increases inflammation by damaging the cells lining your blood vessels. 

Tips for Lowering Saturated and Trans Fat
1. Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables (no trans/saturated fat!).
2. Choose leaner cuts of meat and trim visible fat before cooking.
3. Remove the skin from chicken, turkey, and other poultry.
4. Drink low-fat or skim milk rather than whole or 2%. You will still be getting the same amount of calcium.
6. Decrease your intake of fast food. Many fast food restaurants still use partially hydrogenated oils for frying. 
7. Consume monounsaturated fat (olive oil) and polyunsaturated fat (soybean, sunflower oil).

Remember, not all fat is bad. You need fat in your diet! Also, be aware of the low-fat products. These so-called-healthy products simply swap saturated and trans fat for sugar. When in doubt, it is better to opt for a little fat over a lot of sugar. 

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