Dietary Fat and Cholesterol

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healthy fatsDietary fat is the fat found in food. It’s important for your health and is needed for normal growth and development of your body. Dietary fat has many different functions in your body, such as:

  • Providing long lasting energy
  • Helping you feel full after eating
  • Helping make hormones
  • Forming part of your brain and nervous system
  • Forming cell membranes for every cell in your body
  • Carrying vitamins throughout your body
  • Helping to regulate your body temperature and keep you warm

What are the different types of dietary fat?

The four main types of fat found in food are monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Most foods have a different balance (or amounts) of these types of fats.

Monounsaturated fat is a “heart healthy” type of fat. Research shows that monounsaturated fats may help to decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Good Sources of Monounsaturated Fat Include:
AvocadosOlive Oil
AlmondsPeanut Butter
Canola OilPeanut Oil
CashewsSunflower Oil
Hazelnuts
Nutrition Tip: Try to increase your intake of monounsaturated fat.

Polyunsaturated fat is also a “heart healthy” type of fat. There are two essential fatty acids (linolenic and linoleic) that your body uses to make substances that control blood pressure, blood clotting, and your immune system response. Linolenic fatty acids are a special type of fat called Omega-3 fats which are known to have many health benefits.

Good Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat Include:
Canola OilSardines
Corn OilSesame Seeds
Cottonseed OilSoybeans
FlaxseedsSoybean Oil
HerringSunflower Oil
MackerelTuna
Pine NutsTrout
Pumpkin SeedsWalnuts
Salmon
Good Sources of Omega-3 Fats Include:
Canola OilMackerel
FlaxseedsNuts (such as walnuts)
Flaxseed OilSalmon
Green, leafy vegetablesSardines
HalibutSoy based foods (such as soybeans, soy nuts)
Lake TroutTofu
LegumesTuna
Nutrition Tip: Try to increase your intake of Omega-3 fats.

Saturated fat is also called “animal fat” because many of the richest sources of saturated from are foods that originally come from animals. Although your body needs a little bit of saturated fat to stay healthy, eating too much saturated fat may increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Sources of Saturated Fat:Healthier Options:
ButterOlive Oil
CheeseLow-fat or reduced-fat cheese
Coconut OilCanola oil
CreamLow-fat milk or fat-free creamer
EggsEgg whites or substitute
Ice CreamFrozen yogurt or reduced-fat ice cream
LardOil or all-vegetable shortening (look for 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts label)
Palm or Palm Kernal OilCanola oil
Poultry SkinPoultry without the skin
Red MeatWhite meat poultry or fish
Whole MilkLow-fat milk
Nutrition Tip: Try to decrease your intake of saturated fat.

Trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats. Trans fats are made artificially by food manufacturers. They were originally thought to be the healthier option to replace saturated fats. However, research shows that trans fats are by far the least healthy type of fat. Trans fats increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“healthy”) cholesterol and should be avoided.

Sources of Trans Dietary Fat Include:
CookiesFried Foods
CrackersMargarine (where the nutrition label does not say 0 grams of trans fat)
DonutsMuffins
Fast FoodShortening
Foods that contain and list partially hydrogenated oils
Nutrition Tip: Try to do away with trans fat in your diet.

How much fat should I eat?

Because there are many health benefits that come from eating fat, there’s no need to follow a low-fat diet. The key is to choose mostly healthy types of fat. About 30% of the energy we eat should come from fat. The rest of your energy should come from a combination of carbohydrates and protein.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatlike substance that’s found in animal products and is also made in your liver. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D (which is important for healthy bones), and bile (which helps your body use dietary fat). There are two types of cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol comes from the foods that you eat. It’s only found in foods that come from animals, such as eggs, meat, fish, dairy products, and butter. It’s also found in foods made with butter, including cake, cookies, and muffins. Fruits, vegetables, and grains don’t contain cholesterol.

The amount of cholesterol that is found in the foods you eat is different from the cholesterol level in your blood. Your medical provider may check your blood cholesterol to see if you’re at risk of having heart disease.