Making Sense of Dietary Oils and Fats

contributing columnistMarch 23, 2014 

With so many popular diet trends out there, it's easy to assume that a low-fat diet is the best diet to follow nowadays. But many people don't realize that some fats are healthier than others, and we shouldn't eliminate all fat from the diet. As a dietitian, I am frequently asked questions like: "What types of fats should I be consuming more of?" and "Why are saturated fats bad?"

There are four kinds of fat: two can be categorized as "bad fats," and the other two "good fats." The "bad fats" can raise the levels of the "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) while the "good fats" can have the opposite effect by lowering the level of LDL cholesterol in the body.

Saturated fat and trans fat: Saturated and trans fats are the "bad fats" and are usually found in solid form at room temperature. Some examples of "bad" fats are butter, shortening or lard. Saturated fat is also found in foods from animals. High fat foods from animals include red meat, cream, cheeses and other dairy products made from whole or 2 percent milk. Lastly, so-called "tropical oils," including coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, are high in saturated fat.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats: These "good fats" tend to be found in liquid form, like vegetable, canola or olive oils. You can also find these "good fats" in things like fish, nuts, and avocados.

Focusing your food choices on items that are low on "bad fats" and high on "good fats" can improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. "Good" fats can also help keep blood sugar levels regulated, which is especially important for people with diabetes.

For overall health, I recommend a diet that is low in saturated fat and high in fiber from a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Check the nutrition labels on processed foods carefully; choose items with less than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving.

Nutrition plays a vital role in the prevention and treatment of many chronic health conditions. Registered dietitians must stay current on the latest science-based recommendations in order to provide their clients with the highest quality medical nutrition therapy.

March is National Nutrition Month, which is a great time to meet with a registered dietitian who can assess your diet and make informed, evidence-based recommendations that will optimize your health. Call (859) 226-7327 for more information about registered dietitians and the role they play in healthy living.

Heather Leger, is a clinical dietitian at the UK HealthCare Good Samaritan Hospital.

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