Eat Smart

Ask NEPA: The Skinny on Fats

by Marissa Donovan, NEPA

Is there a difference between saturated, unsaturated and trans fats and which one is the best and worst for me?

Yes, there is a difference—although these are all fats, all fats are not created equal. Unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats and are generally liquid at room temperature (such as vegetable oil), there are two types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to lower blood cholesterol and have also been proven to lower the risk of heart disease compared to consuming other types of fats. Some sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil and avocados; while nuts, seeds and sesame oil are good sources of polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature (such as butter) and have been shown to increase blood cholesterol as well as increasing the risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke. Saturated fats are found in many animal sources such as fatty meat, butter, cheese and other high fat dairy products.

Trans fats are considered the worst fat for one to consume. Trans fats are manufactured through a process called hydrogenation which includes hydrogen atoms being added back to unsaturated fats to help to increase the shelf life of products. In other words, trans fats result from unsaturated fats being transformed into saturated fats. These fats increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol which can increase you risk of heart disease.

On a day-to-day basis, it is recommended to limit total fat intake to 25-35% of total calories, limit saturated fats to 7% of daily calories and limit trans fat to less than 1 % of daily calories.

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