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istock 000010806413xsmallWe have been told to reduce saturated fat in our diet but we need healthy oils.   How much do we need?   Read More

It is true! Fats and oils (triglycerides) are part of the family of compounds called lipids. Too much fat in the diet can lead to obesity (excess body fat), heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. However, too little of the right lipids can be harmful. Oils in the diet carry fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and help our body absorb them. The essential oils are ones our body cannot make for us. Lipids are a part of necessary cell structure throughout the body including cell membranes and brain cells. They are the basis for hormone structures and elements in many metabolic and endocrine systems . Body fat itself keeps our bodies warm and prevents physical injury.

In hopes of taking the correct amount of fat, students always ask 'how much fat do I need'. Most people have reduced the amount of fat in their diets along with health recommendations and with the advice of parents. Most have incomplete knowledge of the healthy oils. Some still take in too much hidden fat and some do not take in enough healthy hidden fat.

Facts about Fat/Oils

A whole fat (triglyceride) is made up of smaller units called fatty acids. These fatty acids can be saturated, trans or unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). The main type of fatty acids that a fat or oil contains is used in its description. Canola and olive oils, for example, are described as monounsaturated fats.

Saturated fats are considered the most harmful if large amounts are taken for many years. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol levels. They are mainly from animal sources and it is a very firm fat at room temperature (meat, butter, full-fat milk, cream and cheese). Amongst animal fat sources there are also some good fatty acids: Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils. For this reason it is OK to keep some animal fat sources in your diet. Eg lean meats and poultry and lower fat dairy products. Saturated fat is also made by hardening liquid vegetable oils, and is found in some processed foods that contain fully hydrogenated vegetable oil.

Trans fats raises blood cholesterol levels also and is found in small amounts in high fat dairy products. Even a small amount of trans fat is harmful. Nutrition Assessment Clinic recommends shopping for foods with no trans fat or at least no more than .02 gms of trans fat. Trans fat is found in many processed foods that contain shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (like hard margarines, some cookies and crackers and deep fried foods). This industrially produced trans fat has been implicated in raising blood cholesterol levels. Trans fat also occurs naturally in smaller quantities in milk, butter and meat (ruminant sources). This may also raise blood cholesterol levels. More research is required to determine the health implications of consuming this trans fat. The intake of both saturated and trans fat, not just trans fat alone, may affect your health. It's important to choose foods that are low in both saturated and trans fat. If a food label says "no trans fat," be sure to check the portion size and the amount of saturated fat too.

Polyunsaturated fats are found in large quantities in fish (especially salmon and oily fish). They can lower cholesterol levels. These include nuts and seeds especially sunflower, safflower, canola, walnuts, almonds and soy beans.

Omega-3 fats are a type of essential polyunsaturated fat, found in fatty fish, canola oil, ground flaxseed, and some soft, non-hydrogenated margarine. The body uses the DHA component in our central nervous system and it is believed to be related to wellness of many body systems. The greater sources are salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies and sardines. Tuna has a smaller amount of this oil. Because of the potential for fish to have some heavy metals and fat soluble pollutants stored in the fat, Health Canada continues to limit fish servings to 3 per week. There is a suggested upper limit for DHA at 1600 mg per day for men and 1100 mg per day for women from the USA .

Omega-6 fats are a type of essential polyunsaturated fat found in palm, soybean, canola and sunflower oil. This oil may have some side effects if taken out of balance with Omega-3. The Omega-6 will compete with Omega-3 for enzyme sites in the body. Chronic excessive production of n−6 eicosanoids is associated with heart attacks, thrombotic stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, mood disorders and cancer.

Monounsaturated fats may lower blood cholesterol levels too. They are found in olive, canola, almonds and foods such as soft margarines that contain these oils. It is important to read food labels to see how much saturated and trans fat is in the food you are eating. Reading Nutrition Facts tables can help you make healthier choices. Look for foods that are low in total fat, or foods that have more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and less saturated and trans fat.

How much fat should I eat

Health Canada says people should consume mostly unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) such as vegetable oils, soft non-hydrogenated margarines and the type of fat found in nuts, seeds and fatty fish. These foods are important sources of essential fats (omega-3 and omega-6 fats) that cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from the diet.
Include a small amount - 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 tablespoons) - of unsaturated fat each day . This includes oil used for cooking, salad dressings, margarine and mayonnaise. People should include a small amount of saturated fat as part of the healthy eating pattern that includes mostly lower fat foods. This will ensure people have enough essential fats. Consuming a larger amount of added fat is not recommended unless people are very active, as it will increase the total calories in the diet. In addition to this there will be 30-45 gms of oil hidden in whole foods in your diet.

Use vegetable oils such as canola, olive and soybean. Vegetable oils such as canola, olive and soybean contain mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of oils are emphasized in the diet for good health. Choose soft margarines that are low in saturated and trans fats. Limit butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening. Fats that are solid at room temperature such as butter, lard and shortening contain more saturated fats or trans fats than oils. Because saturated and trans fats are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, these types of added fats should be limited. A few tropical plant oils such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil are also high in saturated fats and should also be limited .