Know Your Fats

The UDSA advises getting 25-30% (or less) of our diet from fats. That's a lot when you think about it! Fats are essential to our health, so severely restricting them is not desirable depsite the low fat advice we get from our healthcare professionals.

Fats from food provide the raw material that help in the control of blood pressure, blood clotting, hormonal balance and other bodily functions. They also supply essential fats (those that cannot be made by the body) and when chosen carefully can actually assist with weight loss even though fats have over twice the number of calories as proteins or carbohydrates.

Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high LDL (bad) cholesteral. The USDA recommends limiting your intake of saturated fats to 10% (or less) of total fat intake. These fats are found mostly in animal foods and some plants. Animal sources high in saturated fats include most animal meats, butter, whole dairy products, cream and cheeses. Plant sources include coconut oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter.

Trans fatty acids are formed when vegetable oil hardens (a process called hydrogenation). These are even less desirable than saturated fats and should be avoided. Trans fatty acids raise LDL (bad) cholesteral and lower HDL (good) cholesteral and are associated with many degenerative diseases.

Unsaturated fats, when used in place of saturated fats, can help lower blood cholesteral. While these are considered good fats, they are still high in calories. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature whereas saturated fats are hard. There are two types of unsaturated fats:

*Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil and canola oil, flaxseed, olives and avacados. The UDSA recommends mono-unsaturated fats make up 10% of your diet.

*Polyunsaturated fats can be found in cold water fish and flaxeed,sunflower,corn,soybean,safflower and cottonseed oils. Again, 10% of your diet should come from polyunsaturated fats.

There are several unsaturated fats and fatty acids that are excellent for your overall health. The best known are the omega-3 fatty acids which can be found in cold water fish and flaxseed oil. They have been found to protect against many degenerative diseases and to aid in weight loss.

In summary, limit saturated fats and avoid trans fatty acids. Twenty percent of your diet should be split between poly- unsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. If you don't have a direct dietary source of omega-3's take a few fish oil caps each day.
Dr. Lanny Schaffer is an Exercise Physiologist and the President of The International Fitness Academy. For more cutting edge fitness and nutritional advice go to

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