Research has revealed that the total amount of fat you eat really isn’t linked to heart disease; it’s the TYPE of fat you consume that has the greatest influence. Two unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats, raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. However, two very different types of fat — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — do just the opposite. Refer to the table below to help reduce the fat in your diet.
Diets high in saturated fats raise the “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis (the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque that can lead to a heart attack or stroke). Saturated fats are generally solid or waxy at room temperature and are found primarily in animal products and tropical oils. Listed below are some foods that are high in saturated fat.
- Beef, pork, lamb, veal, and the skin of poultry
- Hot dogs, bacon and high-fat luncheon meats (such as salami and bologna)
- High-fat dairy products (such as whole milk, 2% milk, 4% cottage cheese)
- Butter and lard
- Sauces and gravies made from animal fat
- Most fried foods and fast foods
- Bacon fat
- Tropical oils - palm, palm kernel and coconut
- Desserts and sweets made with lard, butter or tropical oils
To cut the saturated fat in your diet, make the following substitutions:
||Trans fat free tub margarine
||Low-fat or nonfat cheese
|Creamer or half and half
||Nonfat creamer or nonfat half and half
|Whole or 2% milk
||1% or nonfat (skim) milk
|Regular cream cheese
||Reduced fat or nonfat cream cheese
|Regular ice cream
||Nonfat or low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet
|2-4% milk fat cottage cheese
||1% or nonfat cottage cheese
|Alfredo, cream sauces
||Marinara, primavera or light olive-oil based sauces
||Light or nonfat mayonnaise
|Prime grades of beef
||Choice or Select grades of beef
|Chicken with skin on
||Chicken without skin
||Egg whites or egg substitutes
Most foods you choose should contain no more than 2 grams (g) of saturated fat per serving. No more than 7 percent of your daily calorie intake should come from saturated fats. Depending on your calorie level, your daily saturated fat limit will vary.
||Daily Saturated Fat Limit (g)
Read the Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels
See the Nutrition Facts label to help you identify the different parts of a food label.
For a food to be labeled "trans fat free," it must contain no more than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving. Margarines that claim to be trans fat free should contain water or liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient. These margarines may still contain some hydrogenated oil, but the amount per serving is negligible. However, portion control is key - once you exceed the serving size, the product is no longer free of trans fat.
Trans Fatty Acids
Trans fatty acids raise the “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and lower the “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Trans fatty acids are formed when a liquid fat is converted to solid fat through a process called hydrogenation. Many manufacturers use hydrogenated fats in their ingredients because it creates a product with an extended shelf life and improved consistency.
There are currently no safe levels of trans fat to consume each day, so try to keep your daily intake as low as possible.
Although trans fatty acids have been largely eliminated from many processed foods, they are still in some foods. Here are some ways to identify trans fats.
- Any food that contains partially hydrogenated oils (such as most processed foods including cookies, crackers, fried snacks, baked goods) will contain some level of trans fat, even if the label states “trans fat free.” (See box above.) Since the ingredients listed on a food label are provided in order of weight, foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils at the top of the ingredients list contain more trans fat than those that contain partially hydrogenated oils lower on the list. Therefore, watch your portion size.
- Margarine: Stick margarine contains more hydrogenated oil (trans fat) than tub margarine does; while tub margarine contains more hydrogenated oil than liquid margarine. Look for margarine that does not contain “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list. A sample ingredient list is included below.
- Shortening is an example of trans fat in its purest form. Some shortenings now claim to be free of trans fat; however, this may only apply to a food’s serving size (remember it can still have 1/2 gram or less of trans fat per serving.) Unfortunately the fat now used to substitute the trans fat in shortening is high in saturated fat, so it’s still not a healthy choice.
- Almost all fast foods and fried foods are currently high in trans fat. Some restaurant chains, such as Ruby Tuesday’s, now use a non-hydrogenated or trans fat free oil to fry their foods. But remember that a heart-friendly diet contains very little fried food.
Look for foods that are labeled trans fat free or those that use liquid vegetable oils instead of hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.
Unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats because they improve cholesterol, are associated with lower inflammation (a risk factor for heart disease), and are associated with overall lower risk of developing heart disease. Unsaturated fats are found primarily in plant-based foods; and are generally liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Considered one of the healthiest fat sources in the diet, monounsaturated fats should make up the bulk of your daily fat intake. Monounsaturated fats are found in high concentrations in these foods:
- Olive oil
- Canola (rapeseed) oil
- Peanut oils
- Most nuts (excluding walnuts), nut oils and nut butters (such as peanut butter)
Polyunsaturated fats are found primarily in:
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Safflower oil
- Flax oil and flax seeds
- Sunflower oil
Omega-3 is one type of poly-unsaturated fat that has additional protective benefits against cardiovascular disease, including lowering triglycerides, protecting against irregular heartbeats, decreasing the risk of a heart attack and lowering blood pressure.
Good food sources of omega-3 are fish – especially cold-water fish like mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines. Smaller amounts of this protective fat can also be found in flaxseeds, chia seeds (often sold as salvia), walnuts, soybean and canola oils.
To reap the protective benefits of omega-3 fat, incorporate fish into at least two meals per week and add plant-based sources of omega-3, such as ground flaxseeds and walnuts, into your daily eating plans.
For more information about omega-3 fats, please ask your dietitian for a copy of the handout, “The Power of Fish: Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”
Cholesterol Reduction and More
Recent research findings show that when unsaturated fats are substituted for some carbohydrate in the diet, these good fats reduced harmful LDL and increased healthy HDL cholesterol. In addition, replacing a carbohydrate-rich diet with one rich in unsaturated fat, primarily monounsaturated, lowered not only cholesterol but also blood pressure and overall heart disease risk.
According to the latest national cholesterol guidelines, your total daily fat intake should range from 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. How much fat you should eat depends upon your individual cardiovascular disease risk and lipid levels. Ask your physician or dietitian for more information.
Your total daily fat should come from these sources each day:
||10 to 20% of daily calories
||10% or less of daily calories
|Saturated plus Trans Fat
||7% or less of daily calories
By choosing unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats whenever possible, you'll be able to meet these guidelines.