• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences News

Fats 101

Fats are a type of nutrient that our body needs to function properly. Fats make up 60 percent of our brain, aid in the absorption of several important vitamins (A, D, E and K) and serve as a basic building block of every cell in the body. We typically use the word “fat” to refer to the fat in our food and in our body.

In the 1990s, it was believed that all dietary fats were unhealthy. Around this time, food manufacturers began developing “low-fat” versions of their most popular products. After many years of research, we now know that there are different types of fats that have unique effects on our health and that some may not be as bad as others. There are four types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fat:

• Mono- and polyunsaturated fats: These types of fat are considered unsaturated and are liquid at room temperature. Common sources of these fats include oils from sesame and sunflower seeds, corn, canola, olives and peanuts, fatty fish, and many other nuts and seeds.

• Saturated fats: These fats are solid at room temperature. Common sources of these fats include some tropical plant-derived oils like coconut and palm oils and several animal products including meats with visible marbling, butter, lard and cream.

• Trans fats: These fats were developed by food manufacturers to increase the shelf-life of prepackaged and processed foods. In the body, these fats mimic the actions of saturated fats. The Food and Drug Administration no longer classifies trans fats as “generally recognized as safe” due to the growing evidence showing their negative impact on human health. As a result, trans fats may no longer be used in food production.

Researchers believe that saturated fats may have negative impacts on health, ultimately resulting in increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. On the other hand, research now shows that unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats have either no effect or a beneficial effect on heart health. When possible, replace saturated fats in your diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This substitution may keep good cholesterol (HDL) high and bad cholesterol (LDL) low and reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Some simple ways to include more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the diet include:

• Replace butter, lard and shortening with liquid oils. When possible, replace meats high in saturated fat with meats high in unsaturated fat, like fatty fish.

• Switch out chips, snack cakes and candy, foods all high in saturated fats, with a handful of almonds, cashews, pecans or macadamias.

It is important to know what types of fat are in the foods you commonly consume. Take a look at the nutrition facts label to determine the amount of unsaturated and saturated fats. Find small ways to make these healthy substitutions, because small changes over time may add up to improve your heart health.

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