Understanding product food labels is critical in achieving a healthy body and healthy weight. In an earlier post, Part I of Know Your Nutrition Label I discussed one type of dietary fat(fat that comes from animals or plants), Trans Fat. Trans Fats are made from oils that have been chemically processed in order to increase the shelf life of foods. Trans Fats can be found in shortening, margarines and popcorn. Unfortunately, this processed fat increases the risk of heart disease by increasing the bad cholesterol and lowering the good cholesterol.
Trans Fats are only one of the bad dietary fats food in foods. The other bad dietary fat found in foods is Saturated Fat, this fat comes primarily from animals( dairy, beef and poultry). Like trans fats, saturated fats increase bad cholesterol and hence increases the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Cholesterol is the other fat listed on nutrition labels, it also comes from animal products, such as meats and eggs. You guessed it, just like saturated and trans fats, cholesterol also increases the level of bad cholesterol hence increases the risk for heart disease.
Not all fat is bad, there are some types of fat that we want in our diet, fat that actually promotes health. Those fats include Unsaturated Fat which are further classified as Monounsaturated fat and Polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat are mostly found in oils, nuts, olives and fish such as salmon. Polyunsaturated fats primarily come from plants. Unsaturated fats do not increase the bad cholesterol and are thought to be heart healthy.
Fat is a nutrient that is important for many body functions. Fat is a source of energy, it’s necessary for cellular function, also it is necessary to absorb vitamins and to make hormones.
We need fat to survive, the question is how much fat is necessary? A good rule of thumb is to limit your intake of dietary fat to 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories. That also means keeping your intake of good fats within your total daily fat allowance. Fat has calories per gram. Thus for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet that amounts to 400 to 700 calories per day, roughly 44 to 78 grams of fat. Whenever possible avoid foods with trans fats or foods that are labeled with the term hydrogenated. Saturated fats should be less than 10 percent of total calories consumed per day. Lastly, limit the total cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams per day.
Like with many things in life, moderation is key. When eating for special occasions it’s okay to indulge in foods that contain bad fat, the key is to return to eating foods that are healthy at the next meal or at the very least the next day.
Stay tuned to Part III of Knowing Your Nutrition Label where I will discuss Carbohydrates, Sugar and Dietary Fiber.
by Marjorie Binette, MD