You may have heard that less fat in your diet means more benefits to your health. But some fats are good for you. In fact, fatty acids are essential to body function. By following some guidelines, you can include good fats and reduce the amount of bad fats in your daily meals for better health. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered "good" because they supply fatty acids without significantly adding to your cholesterol burden. Trans and saturated fats do adversely affect blood cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association suggests that most Americans over age 2 restrict total fat consumption to 25 percent to 35 percent of total calories consumed, with 7 percent or less from saturated fat, and less than 1 percent from trans fat. You'll need to know the different types of fatty foods in order to do the math.
The majority of dietary fat, then, should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Dietary Guidelines recommend these beneficial fatty foods. The "good fat" list includes vegetable and fruit oils such as corn, canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower and olive. Oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring have a dual nature. They are superior sources of polyunsaturates due to the other nutrients they contain, but they also have a small amount of saturates.
How can you tell polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from trans and saturated fats? Among oils, the good fats are those that are liquid at room temperature. Trans and saturated bad fats will congeal.
The list of fatty foods with trans fat ingredients is growing shorter, thanks to an FDA food labeling requirement that took effect in 2006. Public awareness about excessive bad fat in diets put pressure on food manufacturers to phase out trans fats where possible. These are partially hydrogenated oils found in commercial shortening and margarine.
While many food products have substituted good fats, many in the fast-food sector continue to be trans fat heavy. Check the nutrition facts when you buy potato chips, cakes, cookies, crackers and breads. Limit your choices of commercial baked goods and fried menu items from fast-food restaurants.
These fatty foods may be your favorites: milk, pizza, ice cream, hamburgers and fried chicken--and anything with butter on it. Unfortunately, they all have substantial saturated fat. Although all animal products contain saturates, some have less than others. Making wise choices in this category is important to keeping your cholesterol level under control.
Your total fat intake depends upon how you cook and garnish your meat dishes, and on the fat content of the dairy products you buy. In general, though, uncooked beef has more saturated fat per serving than chicken and pork, which have slightly more than fish. Use the nutrition facts on package labels to add up your daily quotient of good and bad fats.