Learning About Low-Fat Eating
What is low-fat eating?
Most food has some fat in it. Your body needs some fat to be healthy. But some kinds of fats are healthier than others.
In a low-fat eating plan, you try to choose healthier fats and eat fewer unhealthy fats. Healthy fats include olive and canola oil. Try to avoid eating too much saturated fat (such as in cheese and meats) and trans fat (a type of fat found in many packaged snack foods and other baked goods).
You do not need to cut all fat from your diet. But you can make healthier choices about the types and amount of fat you eat.
Even though it is a good idea to choose healthier fats, it is still important to be careful of how much fat you eat, because all fats are high in calories.
What are the different types of fats?
- Saturated fat. Saturated fats are mostly in animal foods, such as meat and dairy foods. Tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter, are also saturated fats.
- Trans fat. Trans fats include shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats are made when a liquid fat is turned into a solid fat (for example, when corn oil is made into stick margarine). They are in many processed foods, such as cookies, crackers, and snack foods.
- Cholesterol. Cholesterol is only in animal products, such as eggs, dairy foods, and meats.
- Monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but get solid when refrigerated. Eating foods that are high in this fat may help lower your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, keep your "good" (HDL) cholesterol level up, and lower your chances of getting heart disease. This fat is found in canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and nut butters.
- Polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They are in safflower, sunflower, and corn oils. They are also the main fat in seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids are types of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids may lower your chances of getting heart disease. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel contain these healthy fatty acids. So do ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, soybeans, walnuts, and seeds.
Why cut down on unhealthy fats?
Eating foods that contain saturated fats can raise the LDL ("bad") cholesterol in your blood. Having a high level of LDL cholesterol increases your chance of clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Trans fat raises the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol in your blood and may lower the "good" HDL cholesterol in your blood. Trans fat can raise your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- No more than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. This is about 20 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet.
- No more than 10% of your daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fat. This is about 20 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Monounsaturated fats can be up to 15% of your daily calories. This is about 25 to 30 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet.
If you're not sure how much fat you should be eating or how many calories you need each day to stay at a healthy weight, talk to a registered dietitian. He or she can help you create a plan that's right for you.
What can you do to cut down on fat?
Foods like cheese, butter, sausage, and desserts can have a lot of unhealthy fats. Try these tips for healthier meals at home and when you eat out.
- Fill up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Think of meat as a side dish instead of as the main part of your meal.
- When you do eat meat, make it extra-lean ground beef (97% lean), ground turkey breast (without skin added), meats with fat trimmed off before cooking, or skinless chicken.
- Try main dishes that use whole wheat pasta, brown rice, dried beans, or vegetables.
- Use cooking methods that use little or no fat, such as broiling, steaming, or grilling. Use cooking spray instead of oil. If you use oil, use a monounsaturated oil, such as canola or olive oil.
- Read food labels on canned, bottled, or packaged foods. Choose those with little saturated fat and no trans fat.
When eating out at a restaurant
- Order foods that are broiled or poached instead of fried or breaded.
- Cut back on the amount of butter or margarine that you use on bread. Use small amounts of olive oil instead.
- Order sauces, gravies, and salad dressings on the side, and use only a little.
- When you order pasta, choose tomato sauce instead of cream sauce.
- Ask for salsa with your baked potato instead of sour cream, butter, cheese, or bacon.
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