Go into any grocery store and prepare to be amazed by the multiple shelves of oil lined up in neat rows. Choosing the right fat and/or oil for your health, budget and purpose can be overwhelming.
Fats are categorized as saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans-fats. The oils that you buy in the store are a mixture of first three types of fat. Trans-fats are the really bad fats made from partially hydrogenated oil.
You may have heard that saturated fat is no longer bad for you. Wrong! The people, articles and websites stating that saturated fats are not detrimental to our health, are taking bits and pieces of studies and interpreting the results incorrectly.
Scientific studies show that saturated fat increases the bad (LDL) cholesterol resulting in an increased risk of cardiovascular incidents (heart attack, stroke, etc.) The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, World Health Organization and The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics recommend saturated fat intake be limited to less than 10% of daily calories. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have stricter guidelines suggesting the amount of saturated fat be kept to less than 7% for general population and 5%-6% for individuals with high LDLs.
Saturated fats are animal fats and tropical oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. There are people who tout the benefits of tropical oils. This is because tropical oils have a high percentage (44%) of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). There are studies showing a heart health benefit of MCTs but these are very small studies based on fats with 8-10 carbon chain lengths, not the longer 12 carbon length chains found in tropical oils. The carbon length of the MCT is an important differentiation in determining if a fat (tropical oils) is proven to be good for you. Additionally, coconut and palm oils contain a high percentage of long chain triglycerides (LCT) which is proven to increase the bad cholesterol (LDL). People recommending an increase in coconut oil/fat, do not understand the scientific research studies and/or human physiology and are recommending something that is not scientifically sound.
Polyunsaturated fats are the good ones. Many of the oils high in this type of fat are from plants and include omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many types of fish. This type of fatty acid is demonstrated to reduce inflammation. Omeg- 6 fatty acids are also commonly found in plant-based oils. It is important to have a balance of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 to keep the immune system working properly.
Monounsaturated fats reduce the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise the good HDL cholesterol. Studies show that consuming 12% of total calories from monounsaturated fats reduces blood pressure and results in less fat tissue growth.
Trans-fats are available from two sources. The first being small amount from animal and dairy products. The second source are foods containing partially-hydrogenated oil. Trans-fats are created when hydrogen is added to oil making it solid. Think of natural peanut butter versus the usual solid peanut butter. Trans fats are used to make processed foods more stable on the shelf and to improve flavor and texture. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends and AHA recommend trans fats be limited to less than 1% of total daily calories.
So, to answer the question, “How much and what type of fat should I eat?”
Based on scientific studies, it appears the type of fat is more important than the amount of fat that a person consumes. Replacing saturated fat with processed carbohydrates is not beneficial. However, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat and/or fresh fruit and vegetables is scientifically proven to improve health.
For general health and wellness:
- Saturated fat: 7-10% of total calories;
- Polyunsaturated fat: 5-10% of total calories
- Monounsaturated fat: 12% of total calories.
- Trans fat: Less than 1% of total calories.
The Fat Facts
Monounsaturated Fat Sources: Polyunsaturated Fat Sources:
Sunflower Oil Soybean Oil
Canola Oil Corn Oil
Olive Oil Safflower Oil
Sunflower Oil Canola Oil
Avocado (flesh & oil) Walnuts and Oil
Nuts Flaxseed and Oil
Soybeans and Oil
Fish (trout, herring, salmon)
Trans-Fat Sources: Saturated Fat Sources:
Fried foods Animal Products (Meat, Fish, Eggs, Dairy)
Savory snacks (microwave popcorn) Olives, Coconut, Avocado
Frozen pizza, pizza rolls, snack food
Margarines, Spreads, Coffee creamer
Cake & Muffin mixex, Ready-to-use frosting
Okay, so I realize I’ve included a lot of boring info you probably did not need or necessarily want to know, but I share so you can see there is actual SCIENCE behind the recommendations for healthy fat consumption. It is easy to read an article or hear someone speaking with authority and presume they know what they are talking about. Stick with the facts and you’ll make good decisions!
Please let me know if you have any questions or want more info!