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The Facts on Fat: What a Healthy Diet Should Include

Surprise: Fat’s not all bad. You just have to know how to maximize the healthy fats and minimize the unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats contribute to hardening of the arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke. The following fat facts and tips can help you understand how fat should fit in your healthy eating habits.

Change your fat mix

Fact: Monounsaturated fats like canola oil and olive oil can improve blood-cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for heart disease.

Tip: Substitute monounsaturated fats for the saturated fat and some polyunsaturated fat in recipes and meal planning.

Trim your total fat

Fact: It’s essential to eat some fat because hormones and your nervous system depend on it to function properly. Some fats are healthier than others. Monounsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats and trans fats.

Tip: Limit fat intake to no more than 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories.

Beware of trans fats

Fact: Stick margarine, shortening, processed pastries, cookies and crackers, french fries, and other deep-fried fast foods tend to have plenty of hydrogenated, trans-fatty acids, a riskier type of fat. 

Tip: Trans fats should make up no more than 1 percent of your total daily calories. Cut down on trans fats by eating fewer processed snacks and avoiding deep-fried fast foods. 

Fat-free vs. low-calorie

Fact: Just because a food product is labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat" doesn't mean it's good for you. When a food manufacturer removes the fat, something has to take its place. Usually that’s sugar. Fat-free and low-fat foods can have just as many calories as the regular version and cause weight gain if you eat too much of them. 

Tip: A better approach, if you're craving something in particular, is to have just a couple of bites of the real thing, then push it aside. 

Tips to reduce your fat intake:

  • Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

  • Use fat-free salad dressing, and mayonnaise. If you cannot, or will not, tolerate the taste, try the low-fat versions of these.

  • Skip the butter or margarine on your toast, baked potato, cooked carrots, or other vegetables.

  • Avoid pastries, pies, cookies, muffins, and most commercial snack foods.

  • Reduce your cheese intake or switch to low-fat varieties.

  • Select fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as skim or 1 percent milk, nonfat yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese. Avoid flavored yogurts, as they have added sugar and a lot more calories.

  • Remove all visible fat from lean meat before cooking. Remember to select meats that are relatively low in saturated fats, such as chicken, turkey, and fish.

  • Purchase low-fat or fat-free hot dogs, sausages, and processed meats.

  • Avoid fast foods.

  • When in doubt about a food, read the nutrition label. If more than 30 percent of the calories are from fat, skip it.

Remember that even one positive change a day can help you move toward a healthy eating pattern. Select one of the tips and give it a try today!