Excess consumption of saturated fats from meat and high-fat dairy products increases the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers – four of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
What is fat?
Fat is one of the three major nutrients in our diet. It is a source of energy, and it provides a sense of fullness and taste. Fat (aka fatty acids) can come from animal or plant sources. Some fat is essential in our diet because they are necessary for the absorption of important vitamins.
So, what’s the problem with fat?
Fat provides DOUBLE the calories of a carbohydrate or protein, so too much fat can lead to high caloric intake resulting in weight gain. Too much fat is also linked to many chronic diseases.
Is there a “Good” fat vs. “Bad” fat?
Most fats are a combination of different fatty acids; an oil may have some polyunsaturated and some monounsaturated fat. They are usually categorized according to the majority type of fat. Fats differ in structure and function – and the difference is important!
Saturated fat is associated with increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risk because it stimulates the production of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal products, such as meat and high-fat dairy; however it also comes from a few non-meat sources, such as palm, palm kernel and coconut oils.
Unsaturated fat comes in two categories: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats are the stars of the show. They lower bad cholesterol without lowering the good cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats are found in oils made from olives, canola, peanut, and avocado.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetables oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils. These fats lower bad cholesterol, but also tend to lower good cholesterol (HDL) as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the best of the polyunsaturated fats. Along with possibly raising good cholesterol, these fatty acids decrease the risk of artery blockage and heart attacks. Fatty fishes, such as salmon, albacore, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring and rainbow trout are good sources, along with flaxseed and flaxseed oils.
Trans-fatty acids are formed through a process called hydrogenation, where liquid oil is altered into a solid fat, such as margarine or shortening. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils have a longer shelf life. However, these altered fats raise blood cholesterol and increasing heart disease risk. They are common in baked goods and occur naturally in meat.
Where does cholesterol fit in?
Cholesterol is ONLY found in animal products; it is in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Cholesterol is never in a vegetable product, so be aware of misleading advertising, such as “Cholesterol-free” peanut butter – it never had it in the first place! Dietary cholesterol can raise the blood cholesterol; however, the effect of saturated fat on blood cholesterol is even stronger.
Summing up the facts
A low total fat intake (about 30% of total calories), with the majority of fat from unsaturated sources, appears to lower blood cholesterol levels.
How Meatless Monday fits in…
Cutting out the biggest source of saturated fat ONE DAY A WEEK can make a difference!
Current recommendations from research are for NO MORE THAN 10% of our calories (1/3 of our fat calories) to come from saturated fat.
According to the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index (1999-2000), only 41% of the U.S. population meets this goal. That means that 60% of us still need to decrease saturated fat in our diet! And, our meat and dairy consumption has continued to go up, as has our consumption of added fats.
Given that most of our saturated fat currently comes from meat and dairy products, reducing consumption of these foods can have a big effect. In fact, according to Meatless Monday calculations, cutting out meat and high fat dairy only one day a week can decrease saturated fat by about 15%, which is consistent with the recommendations of the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And reducing saturated fat from meat and dairy, as well as from other sources the rest of the week, will also help us meet the saturated fat goal!
How do we find saturated fat?
The New food label will include both saturated fat and trans fat. Be aware of the serving size and the grams of saturated fat when looking at the label. Based on an average diet of 2000 calories, you should consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat each day (10% of 2000 calories) and no more than 2 grams of trans fats.
In the list of ingredients, watch for animal fats, lard, butter, palm kernel oil, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Avoid these foods, especially if these fats are in the top half of the list.