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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Nutrition facts label listing fat contentFacts on fat

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


There is a lot of misinformation about fat and making decisions about what kinds of fat to eat can be confusing. Some fat is actually needed and plays an important role in good health, while other fats should be limited. Fats are responsible for carrying and absorbing vitamins A, E, D and K. Fats also provide energy for our bodies, protect our organs, keep us warm and help us produce hormones.


The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that total fat intake be 20 to 35 percent of calories for the day. No more than 10 percent of calories a day should come from saturated fat. For someone who consumes around 2,000 calories a day, that would mean no more than 44 to 77 grams of fat a day. Of those, no more than 20 grams should be from saturated fat.


The healthy fats you should choose most often are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are the best choice because they can help lower the risk of heart disease by reducing total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels in your blood. Examples of monounsaturated fat are olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil. Other vegetable oils like corn, sunflower and safflower are examples of polyunsaturated fats.


Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. These are heart-healthy fats that can help protect against coronary artery disease, help lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon, walnuts and soy, canola and flaxseed oils.


Saturated and trans fats should be limited because they trigger your body to make cholesterol, and high cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart disease. Saturated fats generally come from animal foods like beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, butter, whole milk and cheese. Palm, palm kernel and coconut oils also have saturated fat. Trans fats are often found in baked and fried goods that you purchase at the grocery store. Traditional stick margarine and vegetable shortening are also examples of trans fats.


Using food labels can help you track fats and assure you don’t over consume. Food labels must list the number of grams of saturated fat and trans fat per serving of the food. It’s important to include fat in your diet — just make sure you choose the healthy kinds and know your limits!


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Last update: Thursday, January 13, 2011