04-Fat Facts

Serves: 5



* Provides linoeic acid, a fatty acid essential to proper growth, healthy skin and the metabolism or construction of cholesterol in the liver.
* Helps transport, absorb and store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
* Insulates and cushions body organs.
* Supplies energy. It's the most concentrated source of calories (9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram for protein and carbohydrate).
* Satisfies us. Because fat takes longer to digest, it helps control hunger. It is responsible for the creamy texture of ice cream, the crispness of chips and French fries and the flavorful tastes of many other foods.


You don't have to search long or hard to find a few sources of fat in your food. Fat is found in meat, fish and poultry. It is also found in sauces, dressings, butter, margarine, oils, and even in plant sources like nuts and avocados. But don't let fat fool you hidden fat is abundant too. Fat is an integral part of baked foods and many snacks foods, and it can be found in all sorts of dairy foods.

Over the past forty years, Americans have cut back on the amount of fat they eat, and manufacturers have responded by developing thousands of low-fat or fat-free products. While many of these products have helped us cut our fat intake, we still have a ways to go on the fat front. Health experts recommend no more than 30 percent of the calories you eat in a day come from fat.

The greatest amount of fat in the American diet comes from fats and oils, salad dressings, gravies, sauces and candy. The next source of fat in the diet is meat, fish and poultry. Look at the pie chart percentages, and you can see how fat fits into the daily diet.

35% Meat, Fish and Poultry
14% Mixed Dishes
13% Fats and Oils
12% Desserts and Sweets
9% Milk Products
8% Grain Products
5% Fruits and Vegetables
5% Other
Source: General Mills Dietary Intake Study, 1990-1992


All fats are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. Fatty acids are either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Though some fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated may be "better" than others for y9our health, the best advice for eating well is to eat a diet low in all types of fat.


Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found primarily in foods from animal sources. Foods that contain higher amounts of saturated fats include meats, eggs and dairy products (whole milk, hard cheese, butter and cream). Tropical fats (coconut, palm and palm kernel oils) are considered saturated fatty acids, yet they are unique because they come from plants. Health experts recommend saturated fat is limited to 10 percent of calories or less each day.

The downside of saturated fats. Research demonstrates a solid link between a diet high in saturated fats and the incidence of high blood cholesterol. Saturated fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood (the artery-clogging cholesterol). Eating saturated fats raises blood cholesterol more than eating any other type of fat, and more than the actual cholesterol found in food.

Unsaturated fats come primarily from plant sources. They are usually liquid at room temperature. There are tow types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil are high in monounsaturated fats corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower oils contain proportionately more polyunsaturated fats.

All foods that contain fat are actually made up of mixtures of saturated and unsaturated (monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated) fatty acids. In fact, even fats such as cooking oils and margarine contain a mixture of the three.

The upside of unsaturated fats. When unsaturated fats replace saturated fats in the diet, blood cholesterol levels can go down. Polyunsaturated fats can also help lower blood cholesterol levels by lowering LDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, they also lower HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol that can remove plaque from artery walls). Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, help more. They lower LDL cholesterol and may actually increase HDL cholesterol. The key to success for either of these fats is a diet low in total fat, and particularly low in saturated fat.
The Skinny on HDLs and LDLs

Cholesterol is shuttled around the body by substances called low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). LDLs carry cholesterol from the liver (where it is formed) to cells throughout the body. LDLs can deposit excess amounts of cholesterol on the walls of various arteries in your body. These deposits are a form of plaque, which over time can build up, narrow the openings inside arteries and lead to heart disease. This action has earned LDLs the title "bad cholesterol."

Another carrier of cholesterol in the blood is called high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). HDLs are scavengers. They can carry excess cholesterol away from the artery walls and back to the liver for reprocessing or removal from the body. HDLs help to prevent cholesterol buildup and are therefore referred to as "good" cholesterol.


Two other types of fat that affect your health are trans fatty acids and omega-3 fats.

Trans fatty acids (TFA) are formed during hydrogenation-a process that changes liquid fats into a more solid and saturated form. Food manufacturers use hydrogenated fats because they improve the shelf life and stability of a product. Highly unsaturated vegetable oils, such as safflower or sunflower oil, are not stable enough to use in some food products because they develop off flavors within a short period of time. Check the labels of cookies, snack foods and bakery products. You'll see that many list hydrogenated oil as one of the ingredients.

The downside of trans fats. When it comes to blood cholesterol levels, trans fats act more like a saturated fat than the unsaturated fat they started out as. Trans fats are believed to raise blood cholesterol levels, including LDL cholesterol, and lower HDL cholesterol levels when they are substituted for polyunsaturated fats in the diet. But when trans fats are substituted for saturated fats, research has found that cholesterol levels can fall. Some research has also linked trans fats with an increased risk for certain cancers.

Omega-3 fats, often referred to as fish oils, are unsaturated fats found primarily in certain kinds of fish, particularly salmon, mackerel, trout and albacore tuna. They are also found in high concentrations in flax seed, which is not especially common but is finding its way on to the shelves of many health food stores. The seeds have a high oil content and are sometimes ground into a flour, mixed with liquid and used to add body to baked goods.

The upside of omega-3 fats. Studies show omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke by lowering blood cholesterol levels and decreasing the likelihood of clots forming in the blood. How much of an impact do they have? One study found that middle-aged men who ate the equivalent of an ounce of fish a day were 44 percent less likely to have a heart attack than men who did not eat fish. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating several servings of fish a week. If fish is not a favorite in your family, other good sources for omega-3 fats are soybean and canola oils.

Fat Source Saturated Monounsaturated Polyunsaturated Cholesterol
(%) (%) (%) (mg/Tbls)
Canola Oil 6 62 32 0
Safflower Oil 9 12 75 0
Sunflower Oil 10 20 66 0
Corn Oil 13 24 59 0
Olive Oil 14 74 8 0
Margarine, stick 14 39 24 0
Margarine, soft tub 14 32 31 0
Soybean Oil 15 43 38 0
Peanut Oil 17 46 32 0
Vegetable Shortening 25 45 26 0
Palm Oil 49 37 9 0
Butter 62 29 4 33
Coconut Oil 87 6 2 0
Source: Duyf, Roberta L. "The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide." Minneapolis: Chronimed Publishing, 1998.


Too much of any kind of fat, including the fats classified as good, such as olive oil and fish oils, can sabotage your efforts to eat well. If you reduce all fats in your diet and eat proportionately more unsaturated fat than saturated, you'll be on the right track for good health. (See 05-Reducing Fat in the Diet: Fat Trimming Tips)

From "Betty Crocker's Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cooking Today." Text Copyright 2005 General Mills, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This 04-Fat Facts recipe is from the Betty Crocker's Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cooking Today Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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