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Fat: It's Not All Bad

Fat is not a four-letter word. Some dietary fat, in fact, is essential to your health. Fat provides energy and is a significant part of cell membranes, among other important functions.

Unsaturated fatWhat's more, research has shown that the total amount of fat you eat isn't necessarily associated with weight or poor health. Instead, it's the type of fat you eat that matters. There are good-for-you-fats, called unsaturated fats, and bad fats-saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. They are generally found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish. Most of the fat you eat should be unsaturated. There are two types of unsaturated fat: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Think of it this way: the longer the name of the fat, the better it is for you.

Saturated fats are generally found in animal fats such as red meat, ice cream and high-fat cheese and certain kinds of plant oils including palm and coconut oil (used in some commercial baked goods).

You don't need to eat any saturated fat at all-your body produces all you need. While you can't eliminate saturated fats entirely, you should try to limit them as much as possible to stay healthy.

Trans fats are, simply put, bad news for your health. Trans fats are made when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats (called hydrogenation). Fortunately, many food manufacturers have now reduced or eliminated trans fats from their products. Be aware that trans fats may still be used in restaurants and commercially baked goods. Check grocery food labels; they are now required to have trans fat content.

Now, let's look at how fats fit into the Food Pyramid.

Fat and the Food Pyramid

Here are MyPyramid recommendations on healthy fats:

Use monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which do not raise "bad" cholesterol levels in your blood. Limit oil consumption to balance total calorie intake.

And here are ways to include healthy fats in your everyday eating:

Know your unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils include canola, olive, peanut, sunflower, soybean and flaxseed oils.

Limit red meat. Instead, opt for beans, poultry and fish such as salmon.

Dial down on dairy fat. Choose low-fat milk, cheese and ice cream. You'll cut down on saturated fat and cholesterol too.

Eat margarine. Choose one that is trans fat free and low in saturated fat.

Avoid fried fast foods that may contain trans fats.

HEALTHY EATING PRIMER

Carbohydrates
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Fiber
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Fat
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The Power of Protein
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Healthy Weight, Healthy Living
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