All Fats Are Not the SameFat is an essential nutrient for the body. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function properly. For example, we need fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. High intakes of some saturated and trans fats, may raise cholesterol levels; thus intake of these should be kept low. Unsaturated fats are considered better for you and are found mostly in plant foods (such as nuts, vegetable oils, and avocados) and fish.
Some saturated fats can increase blood cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease. This kind of fat is found in animal products, such as red meat poultry (especially dark meat and skins) and full fat dairy foods (whole milk, cheese, ice cream), as well as palm and coconut oils. Experts advise us to consume diets low in saturated fat (less than 10% of total calories).
Trans fats are made by converting liquid fat to solid fat in a process called hydrogenation. High intakes of trans fats can result in elevated blood LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels. Since 2003, the FDA has required that food companies list the amount of trans fats on food labels. Foods that contain these types of industrially produced trans fats tend to contain partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient statement. Dietary recommendations are to reduce saturated fat intake while increasing intake of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol compared to saturated fats. Food sources of polyunsaturated fat include walnuts, soybean, corn, sesame and sunflower oils, as well as most fish. Dietary sources of monounsaturated fats include nuts, olive oil, canola oil and avocados. Up to 10% of your daily calories can come from monounsaturated fats.
Most nuts—including peanuts, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts—contain monounsaturated fats. In July 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated that it would allow companies to place the following qualified health claim about nuts and the reduced risk of coronary heart disease on the label of whole or chopped peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts [such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and some pine nuts] as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. [See nutrition information for fat content]. (FDA, 2003).”
Of course, the overall amount of fat in most people's diets shouldn't exceed 30-35% of total calories. So unsaturated fats should replace saturated and trans fats in your diet, not be added to them. It is also important to watch overall caloric intake when substituting unsaturated fats for trans and saturated fats.
Consider these simple and delicious ways to substitute unsaturated fats for saturated and trans fats in your daily diet:
- At least once or twice a week, skip meat or poultry for dinner and enjoy foods that provide vegetable protein, such as beans, peanuts and soy-based products.
- Sprinkle your salad with peanuts, walnuts, pecans, or slivered almonds and drizzle with walnut oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Sauté vegetables in canola oil or olive oil instead of butter.
- Try soy or nut butters (such as peanut, cashew or almond butters) instead of regular butter on your toast.
- When eating out, avoid cream sauces and choose dishes prepared with olive oil.
- Qualified Health Claims: Letter of Enforcement Discretion—Nuts and Coronary Heart Disease (Docket No 02P-0505). United States Food and Drug Administration. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition 2003. Available at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/qhcnuts2.html.
- Eckel RH. et al. 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Doi:10.1016/j.jacc2013.11.003.