Restricting fat with low fat foods:
Food companies have launched marketing campaigns demonizing fats in our diet. Stroll down an aisle at your local supermarket and take in the vast array of snacks, condiments, and frozen entrees in packages claiming these foods are "low fat" "reduced fat" or "contains no trans fats". Sure these products just might meet the criteria of having a lower fat content-but are they a healthy alternative?
Over the last decade, researchers have been reevaluating the role fats play in our diets; some findings even debunk ideas previously presented as scientific fact. As it turns out, our bodies need fats to absorb certain vitamins (A, D, E and K) and Omega 3 fatty acids (which our bodies cannot produce on their own) to function. The fact of the matter is not all fats are bad. We need fats in our diet. Even raw veggies like broccoli and watermelon have trace amounts of fat. Of course, this information is not a license to go eat a double cheeseburger combo meal-but we can benefit from the knowledge that not all fats are bad fats.
Moreover, when regulating the amount of fats going into our bodies, being told to restrict fat intake is both problematic and arbitrary. So how much is too much? The American Heart Association recommends limiting fat consumption to fewer than 30 percent of your daily calorie intake, which means if you consume 2000 calories a day, then you should not exceed eating more than 60 grams of fat. Too much fat in your diet can lead to health complications like heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. But just as important as not exceeding this daily limit is monitoring the type of fat going into your body. Many foods contain a combination of healthy and not so healthy fats.
Types of Fat:
First, let's start with the two types of fat we should limit:
Saturated fat is most commonly found in foods such as dairy, meats, and tropical oils. Saturated fats are also called "solid fats" because they are solid at room temperature. It is wise to limit one's intake of saturated fats since these raise our low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (LPL)-what we referred to as "bad cholesterol"-- increasing both one's risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Foods high in saturated fat: fatty meats; poultry with skin; egg yolks; butter; tropical oils (coconut and palm); avocado; whole-milk dairy (milk, ice cream, cheese etc.); processed grain products (cake, cookies, muffins).
Trans fat is the only fat that is predominantly man-made and can be found in many processed foods, snacks, and some salad dressings. When unsaturated fats are subjected to a process known as hydrogenation, these fats become harder at room temperature, thus having a longer shelf life. Many snack food companies now boast on their packaging "No Trans Fats", making their foods appear to be more healthy. But don't be fooled! The absence of trans fat doesn't automatically make a snack healthier; it could have a high concentration of saturated fat, which is why it's important to read the label.
Foods high in trans fat: margarine; prepackaged mixes (cake, cookie, biscuit); fried fast foods; frozen foods; any product lists "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients list.
And now for the good fats.
Unsaturated fats are commonly referred to as "good fats" or "healthy fats"-- yes, these phrases do seem to be in conflict from what we have been told by health experts in the past, but it's really not true. Unlike saturated and trans fat, these fats are liquids at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are usually found in nuts, oils, seafood and some vegetables. Eating unsaturated fats may help lower your LDL cholesterol levels and raise your high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), or "good" cholesterol levels. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Eating foods with these fats in moderation have been proven to have several health benefits. Of course, you must cut down on your saturated and trans fats intake to reap the benefits of unsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are generally high in the antioxidant vitamin E. Adding foods high in monounsaturated fats in moderation can reduce the chance of heart disease and are beneficial to controlling blood sugar and insulin levels.
Foods High in monounsaturated fats: avocados; olives oils (canola, olive, peanut, sesame); nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, pecans); sesame seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in seafood, some seeds, and vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids is a type of polyunsaturated fat found in salmon; our bodies cannot produce Omega-3s but need them to function properly. Eating foods with polyunsaturated fats (in moderation!) are also believed to lessen the chance of heart disease.
Foods high in polyunsaturated fats: fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna); oil (corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower); pumpkin and sunflower seeds; walnuts
Read Nutrition Labels!
Reading (not quickly glancing at!) nutrition labels is one of the best methods for monitoring fat intake. Creating an awareness of what goes into your body helps control not only what you eat, but how much you eat. Although we would assume the information on a nutrition label is straight forward, it's important to pay attention to serving sizes. A good example of noting serving sizes is with microwavable rice bowls. Common sense leads us to believe one rice bowl equals one serving, yet the nutrition label on many companies lists it as two servings. So those of us not reading the nutrition labels would of course be consuming twice the calories, fats and carbohydrates.
Another point of contention when reading labels comes from distinguishing the difference in products claiming to be "low fat" and "lower fat" (also referred to as "reduced fat"). There is an important difference between the two. Low fat foods contain 3g of fat or less per 100g (and high fat food are 20g or more per 100g). Lower or reduced fat, on the other hand, means there is at least 30% less fat than the typical equivalent. In other words, if the typical version of the food is already high in fat, chances are, you are still eating a food high in fat.
You can use this handy little tool to help you determine if a food is too high in fat.
How Much Fat?
When considering how much fat should be incorporated into our diets, remember we should not eat more than 30% of our daily calorie intake.Â In order to maintain a healthy balance of fats in our diet, abide by this ratio:
Saturated fat: less than 10% of your calorie intake;
Polyunsaturated: less than 10%;
Trans fats: avoid.