It seems like fats are always getting a bad rap, but they're not all bad. Fats supply the body with energy, provide the building blocks for cell membranes and help key systems in the body function properly. They also help the body absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
Certain kinds of fat play an important role in health. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial forms of fat that promote heart health. These fats help lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
The recommended daily total fat intake is between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
But some fats, like saturated and trans fats, are not so good. Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels that increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Watch Your Labels
FDA has required that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol be listed on the food label since 1993. Trans fat was added to the nutrition facts and some supplement facts panels in 2006. With the addition of trans fat on the nutrition facts panel, consumers now know how much of all three -- saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol -- are in the foods they choose, helping them make heart-healthy food choices to reduce their risk of coronary heart disease. But what is trans fat, and how can you limit the amount of this fat in your diet?
What is Trans Fat?
Unlike other fats, most trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. Essentially, trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil -- a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats.
Food labels should indicate the amount of trans fat in a product, but also be sure to check the list of ingredients. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated," that means trans fat is present. But keep in mind it doesn't always mean there will be an excessive amount. A small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods.
Trans fat, according to the Food and Drug Administration, can often be found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as:
*Some margarines (especially margarines that are harder)
Individual intake depends on your food choices. Select foods carefully and choose as little trans fat as possible.
New products are available in the supermarket that are labeled trans fat-free. However, some products trans fat-free may still be high in saturated fat, calories or added sugars. Check the nutrition facts panel on the food label for total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, as well as calories and other nutrients. Select foods that will fit into a healthy eating plan.