LEARN It! Challenge 1, Topic 1
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Fats and Cholesterol

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Low fat diets are no longer the recommendation for preventing and treating heart disease. Fats are an important part of what we eat. Our bodies need fat to carry out many functions. It is important to know which fats are best for you.  


There are different types of fat found in the foods we eat: 

  • unsaturated fat
  • saturated fat
  • trans fat

Trans fats

Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are made when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats for margarine, shortening, or deep-fat frying. Trans fats can increase your chances of developing heart disease and diabetes, even if you do not eat a lot of them (see Avoiding Trans Fats, below). To avoid health problems, it is best to eat no trans fats at all or almost none! Trans fats are found in foods like…

  • Baked goods, packaged snack foods, doughnuts, crackers and chips
  • Greasy, shiny, or greasy-crisp fried foods and biscuits from fast food places and restaurants
  • Hard stick margarine
  • Shortening

Avoiding Trans Fats

Even a small amount of trans fat can be bad for your health. For most adults, as few as 2to 7 grams of trans fat a day can be harmful. Be aware that food labels can say “zero transfat” when a food has less than 0.5 grams (500 mg) of trans fats per serving, so you could be eating trans fats even when you see “zero” on the label! Looking at the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” is the ONLY way to know for sure whether something has trans fats in it.

Note the trans fats in this list of ingredients from a food label:

Ingredients: Enriched our, sugar, vegetable oil, whey (from milk), partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, baking soda, calcium lactate, malic acid, high fructose corn syrup

Saturated Fats

Eating too much saturated fat can also increase your chances of having heart problems. Try to eat less than 20 grams of saturated fat per day. Saturated fats are mostly hard or solid fats. They are the mainly fats found in foods from animals. Foods like…

  • Fatty meats—ribs, ground beef, steak, barbecue, salt pork, and fatback
  • Processed meats—bacon, sausage, bologna, and hot dogs
  • Full fat dairy products like whole milk, ice cream, cheese

Unsaturated Fats

The unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated) are better for your heart. These fats are softer, more liquid fats that are found mostly in plant foods and some oily fish. Foods like…

  • Vegetable oils—olive, canola, safflower, peanut, corn, and soybean oils
  • Salad dressings made with these oils
  • Most soft tub margarine
  • Fish—salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Nuts—almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts
  • Seeds – sunflower, flax, hemp

To keep your heart healthy and lower your chances of getting heart disease…

Choose foods that are LOW in trans and saturated fats

  • Fruits and vegetables*
  • Beans*
  • Whole grain breads and cereals*
  • Lean meats, chicken, turkey and sh
  • 1%, 1/2%, or skim (nonfat) milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat or nonfat yogurt
  • Watch out for foods made with coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils, which are high in saturated fat.

Eat more of these other kinds of fat

  • Use liquid vegetable oils and trans-fat-free margarine spreads for cooking and seasoning instead of animal fats like lard, bacon grease, side meat, or fatback.
  • Eat a small amount of nuts for a healthy snack
  • Choose fish more often.

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