March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Put
Your Best Fork Forward.” Clever, right? But what does that really
mean? I think it means putting nutritious food in your body every day
and while there are many nutrients you need daily, today I want to focus
on one. I want to talk about the “F” word. That’s right.
I want to talk about fat.
Too many of us haphazardly cut fat out of our diet. According to the 2015-2020
Dietary Guidelines, the recommended amount of fat for adults 19 years
and older is 20-35 percent of their diet. Your body needs fat for heat
and energy, to pad organs and nerves and as a regulator for fat soluble
vitamins. It is also essential to normal glandular activity and is involved
in many of the body’s metabolic processes. However, it’s the
kind of fat you consume that matters.
Let’s start with the fats you want to limit: saturated and trans
fats. Saturated fat increases total cholesterol and while our bodies need
some saturated fats for physiological and structural functions, we naturally
produce plenty to meet those needs. So, we don’t need to supplement
saturated fats with our diet. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines
recommend that saturated fats be less than 10% of total calories. Food
they are found most heavily in are coconut and palm kernel oils, butter,
and animal fats such a beef, pork and chicken.
Trans fat is argumentatively the worst fat you can consume. Simply put,
trans fats increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol. This
kind of fat is typically formed through an industrial process that adds
hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes it to become solid at room temperature.
You can find trans fats in processed and fried foods, baked goods, creamer,
margarine, and even refrigerator dough. The manufactured forms of trans
fats are listed as partially hydrogenated or shortening on product labels.
If you see any of those words in the ingredient list, you may want to
leave it on the shelf.
Some fats, however, offer health-protective benefits. Polyunsaturated and
monounsaturated fats, for example, are emphasized as a part of a healthy
diet. As major sources of essential fatty acids and vitamin E they help
raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. There is strong evidence
suggesting that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats helps
reduce the risk of heart attacks and related deaths.
So how do we get those healthy fats in our diets? Well, polyunsaturated
fats are found in nuts, seeds, fatty fish and vegetable oils such as corn
and safflower oil. This category also includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty
acids that our bodies do not produce – we have to get them from
food. Foods like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sunflower seeds, walnuts,
flaxseed, canola and soybean oil and eggs all contain polyunsaturated
fats. Monounsaturated fats can be found in nuts, olive, canola, peanut,
safflower and sesame oils, avocados, and peanut butter.
While fat is essential to our health, don’t forget the age old rule
of, “all things in moderation.” Good fats can have a beneficial
effect on your heart when eaten as a part of a balanced diet and when
used to replace saturated and trans fat sources.
is a Clinical Dietitian for St. Mary's Medical Center and can be reached at 816-655-5597.