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Good Fats and Bad Fats

We all need fats.  Some types of dietary fat are better than others

You're ready to sauté fresh vegetables for dinner, but you hesitate with uncertainty. Do you cook the vegetables in butter or margarine? Or would canola oil or olive oil be better?

Maybe you should avoid fat altogether and use a nonfat cooking spray instead.

Confused About Fats?

The following nutrient-rich traditional fats have nourished healthy population groups for thousands of years:

  • Butter

  • Beef and lamb tallow

  • Lard

  • Chicken, goose and duck fat

  • Coconut, palm and sesame oils

  • Cold pressed olive oil

  • Cold pressed flax oil

  • Marine oils

The following new-fangled fats can cause cancer, heart disease, immune system dysfunction, sterility, learning disabilities, growth problems and osteoporosis:

First, know that not all fats are created equal.

Most foods contain several different kinds of fat - including saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat - and some types are better for your health than others are.

It's not necessary that you completely eliminate all fats from your meals. Rather, be sure to choose the best types of fat and enjoy them in moderation.

Fat: A necessary nutrient

Fats helps nutrient absorption, nerve transmission, maintaining cell membrane integrity etc.

Your body needs fat to function properly. Besides being an energy source, fat is a nutrient used in the production of cell membranes, as well as in several hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids.

These compounds help regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and the nervous system.

In addition, dietary fat carries fat-soluble vitamins - vitamins A, D, E and K - from your food into your body.

Fat also helps maintain healthy hair and skin, protects vital organs, keeps your body insulated, and provides a sense of fullness after meals (satiety).

But too much fat can negatively impact your health. Eating large amounts of high-fat foods adds excess calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Obesity is a risk factor for several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gallstones, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis.

And too much of certain types of fat; such as saturated fat or trans fat - can increase your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of coronary artery disease.

Fats are not created equal. Some fats promote our health positively while some increase our risks of heart disease. The key is to replace bad fats with good fats in our diet.

Healthy fats

When choosing fats, your best options are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.  These fats, if used in place of others, can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in your blood.

Cholesterol, which your body produces for building cells, is the main substance in fatty deposits (plaques) that can develop in your arteries.  Plaques that build up can reduce blood flow through your vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.

One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, may be especially beneficial to your heart.

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant/nut oils. Fish oil contains both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while some nuts (English walnuts) and vegetable oils (canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, olive) contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

There is evidence from multiple large-scale population (epidemiologic) studies and randomized controlled trials that intake of recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides, reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease, slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries"), and lowers blood pressure slightly.

However, high doses may have harmful effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding. Although similar benefits are proposed for alpha-linolenic acid, scientific evidence is less compelling, and beneficial effects may be less pronounced.

Some species of fish carry a higher risk of environmental contamination, such as with methylmercury.

Here are the differences among these healthy fats as well as the best food sources for each type:

  • Monounsaturated fat remains liquid at room temperature but may start to solidify in the refrigerator. Foods high in monounsaturated fat include olive, peanut and canola oils. Avocados and most nuts also have high amounts of monounsaturated fat.

  • Polyunsaturated fat is usually liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils, such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found mostly in seafood. Good sources of omega 3s include fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Flaxseeds, flax oil and walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, and small amounts are found in soybean and canola oils.

Harmful fats

Saturated and trans fats are less healthy kinds of fats. They can increase your risk of heart disease by increasing your total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Dietary cholesterol isn't technically a fat, but it's found in food derived from animal sources. Intake of dietary cholesterol increases blood cholesterol levels, but not as much as saturated and trans fats, and not to the same degree in all people.

Here are how these fats differ and what their common food sources are:

  • Saturated fat.  Usually solid or waxy at room temperature, saturated fat is most often found in animal products — such as red meat, poultry, butter and whole milk.  Other foods high in saturated fat include coconut, palm and other tropical oils.

  • Trans fat. < Trans fats: What's all the fuss? >  Also referred to as trans-fatty acids, trans fat comes from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation.  This makes the fat more solid and less likely to turn rancid. Hydrogenated fat is a common ingredient in commercial baked goods — such as crackers, cookies and cakes — and in fried foods such as doughnuts and french fries.  Shortenings and some margarines also are high in trans fat. Look for the words partially hydrogenated in the list of ingredients to see if the product has trans fat. Some food labels state if the product has no trans-fatty acids.

  • Dietary cholesterol.  Your body naturally manufactures all of the cholesterol it needs, but you also get cholesterol from animal products, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard and butter.

Your daily limit for fat intake

It is recommend that fat make up no more than 35 percent of your daily calories. This means that if you consume 1,800 calories a day, consume no more than 70 grams of fat a day.

(To figure: Multiply 1,800 by 0.35 to get 630 calories, and divide that number by 9, the number of calories per gram of fat, to get 70 grams of total fat.)

Keep in mind, however, that this is an upper limit and that most of these fat calories should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources.

Type of fat recommended for daily consumption

  • Saturated fat - Less than 10 percent of your total daily calories

  • Dietary cholesterol - Less than 300 milligrams a day

Though there is no upper limit for trans fat, they do suggest that you keep your trans fat intake as low as possible.

Be aware that many foods contain different kinds of fat and varying levels of each type.

For example, butter contains unsaturated fats, but a large percentage of the total fat is saturated fat.

And canola oil has a high percentage of monounsaturated fat, but also contains smaller amounts of polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat.

Tips for choosing the best types of fat

Limit fat in your diet, but don't try to cut it out completely. Focus on reducing foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, and select more foods made with unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have few adverse effects on blood cholesterol levels, but you still need to consume all fats in moderation.

Eating large amounts of any fat adds excess calories. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared with 4 calories per gram for protein and carbohydrates. Also make sure that fatty foods don't replace more nutritious options, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes or whole grains.

What can we do?

Avoid using cooking oils that are high in saturated fats and/or trans fats such as coconut oil, palm oil or vegetable shortening. Instead, use oils that are low in saturated fats and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as canola oil, olive oil and flax seed oil.

Minimize using commercially packaged foods which are high in trans fats.

As saturated fats are found in animals products, use lower-fat version dairy such as 1% or skim milk instead of homo milk. Trim visible fats and skins from meat products.

Trans Fatty Acids - what and where?

Trans fatty acids are found in numerous foods - commercially packaged goods such as cookies and crackers, commercially fried food such as French Fries from some fast food chains, other packaged snacks such as microwave popcorn as well as in vegetable shortening and some margarine.

Any packaged goods that contains "partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils" or "shortening" most likely contain trans fats.

Before the invention of trans fatty acids, we cooked food with lard, palm oil or butter etc which are high in saturated fats. Researchers found that saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) which may increase the risk of heart disease.

Therefore, manufacturers started to use the healthier vegetable oils in their food production.

As liquid vegetable oils are not stable to heat and can go rancid easily, scientists began to "hydrogenate" liquid oils so that they can withstand better in food production process and provide a better shelf life. As a result of hydrogenation, trans fatty acids are formed.

Similar to saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids also increase LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol (the Good cholesterol) therefore increasing the risk of heart disease.

Some studies also showed that a diet high in trans fatty acids may be linked to a greater risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Minimize the intake of both saturated fats and trans fats by checking the food labels.  The amount of trans fats per serving of food will appear under the Total Fat section of the label.

Some labels, however, do not list the amount of trans fats present. Here is how you can figure it out on your own: add up the values for saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. If the number is less than the "Total fats" shown on the label, the unaccounted is trans fat.

In addition, eat less fat - less total fat in general means less trans and saturated fats!

Types of Edible Fats

  • Sweet Butter

    • Sweet butter, which is simply referred to as "butter", is produced from cream that has been churned until it becomes semisolid.

    • It is one of the two main types of butter (the other is lactic butter).

    • Any type of milk can be used, but cow's milk is the most popular. In the United States, any product labeled sweet butter must contain at least 80% milk fat. Water and milk solids are the remaining components.

    • Sweet butter may be sold salted or unsalted. Many people mistakenly believe that "unsalted butter" is the only type of sweet cream butter (because of the absence of salt) and "salted" butter refers to a product that is entirely different, when actually both products are identical except for the salt.

    • Any butter produced with sweet rather than sour cream is known as sweet cream butter. Both unsalted and salted butter are popular for everyday use, but unsalted butter is preferred for the preparation of sweet dishes.

    • Butter is one of the most popular cooking fats, providing rich flavor to foods, but it has a low smoke point, so care must be taken not to burn it when using it for high heat sautéing and frying.

    • When sautéing with butter, many cooks add an oil with a higher smoke point to prevent the butter from burning.

    • Butter is used as a topping for breads and rolls, is melted onto cooked vegetables, and is added to many types of sauces to provide a rich, smooth flavor. It is also used as an ingredient in hundreds of baked goods such as breads, rolls, cakes, and pastries.

    • Butter is perishable so it should be stored in the refrigerator. It should be tightly wrapped because it will absorb odors and flavors quite easily.

    • Unsalted butter may be kept in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 weeks and salted butter may be kept somewhat longer (4 or 5 weeks) because the salt acts as a preservative.

    •  Butter freezes extremely well and may be kept in the freezer for long-term storage for at least a half year.

    • Common Uses: cooking, baking, condiment, ingredient for sauces, flavoring ingredient

Note: A product labeled "whipped butter" is regular butter that has had air beaten into it in order to increase the volume and to make it easier to spread. It should not be used in baked goods because the large volume of air contained in the product will result in the incorrect proportion of butter in comparison to the other ingredients.

  • Lactic Butter

    • One of the two basic types of butter is lactic butter (the other main type is sweet cream butter), which is produced by adding a culture to pasteurized cream.

    • The culture ripens the butter and at the appropriate time, it is pasteurized again to stop the ripening process. Lactic butter is favored in many European countries.

    • Common Uses: cooking, baking, condiment, ingredient for sauces, flavoring ingredient

  • Clarified Butter

    • Clarified butter is produced by melting regular butter over low heat and skimming off the milk solids that rise to the top. The golden yellow clarified layer is then strained off, leaving only sediments in the bottom of the pan.

    • Clarified butter has a rich buttery flavor and is excellent for cooking because it has a higher smoke point than regular butter. It is used in many baked dishes and for creating a variety of sauces.

    • Clarified butter is also known as drawn butter and is often used as a dipping sauce for various types of seafood, such as shrimp and lobster.

    • Common Uses: ingredient in baked dishes and sauces, condiment

  • Ghee

    • Originating in India, ghee is a form of clarified butter that is made from a strongly flavored cream.

    • After the butter from the cream is clarified, it is allowed to remain on the heat for a longer period, which results in a darker, caramelized, strongly flavored butter.

    • It has a very high smoke point, making it useful for high heat cooking methods.

    • Ghee, which is usually sold in cans, does not have to be refrigerated because it contains no milk solids that can spoil.

    • Common Uses: cooking, ingredient in baked dishes and sauces, condiment

  • Whey Butter

    • In order to produce whey butter, the whey is drained from the cheese curds during the cheese making process. Any cream remaining in the whey is separated and churned into butter.

    • Whey butter is strong and salty with a cheese flavor and it has limited appeal. It can be found in some specialty shops and farmers markets.

    • Common Uses: condiment, flavoring ingredient

  • Cocoa Butter

    • Cocoa butter is a cream colored vegetable fat that is obtained from cocoa beans, usually as a byproduct during the production of chocolate and cocoa powder.

    • It is used as a flavoring for various foods and it is also used in the cosmetic industry for the manufacture of soaps and lotions. It is very high in saturated fat so it should be used sparingly.

    • Common Uses: chocolate and cocoa powder production, cosmetics

  • Lard

    • Lard is pork fat that has been rendered and clarified to produce a product that is firm and evenly textured with a mild flavor.

    • Lard that is not processed has a soft, greasy texture and a strong flavor. Processing methods include bleaching, filtering, and hydrogenation.

    • The fat around the kidneys produces lard with the best quality. At one time, lard was extremely popular as an all-purpose cooking fat and for use in baking.

    • It has become much less popular because of the health problems associated with the overuse of saturated fat in the diet.

    • However, it is still preferred by many pastry cooks because it produces the most tender and flaky crusts. Some cooks add butter to lard when making pastries in order to make the crust more flavorful.

    • Like butter, lard will absorb flavors and aromas so it should be tightly wrapped when it is stored.

    • The label should be checked for the proper storage method because some types of lard, depending on the processing technique, may be stored at room temperature, while other types require refrigeration.

    • Common Uses: baking, frying

  • Suet

    • Suet is a white, solid fat obtained from the area surrounding the kidneys of beef and sheep.

    • It is used for the creation of dumplings and for several traditional English steamed puddings, such as steak and kidney pudding.

    • It is also used in the manufacture of tallow candles. It was very popular at one time, but it has lost much of its popularity due to increased awareness of health problems associated with saturated fat.

    • Suet is sold in large chunks or in a shredded form in small packets.

    • Common Uses: steamed puddings, candles

  • Vegetable Shortening

    • Made from vegetable oils, vegetable shortening is a solid fat at room temperature because of a process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen is added to the oils.

    • This changes the chemical characteristics of the oils, making them solid at room temperature.

    • The process also creates trans-fatty acids, which transforms the healthy oils, composed largely of unsaturated fat, into less healthy fats containing mostly saturated fat.

    • Like lard, vegetable shortening is very useful in baking light and flaky pastries.

    • Some varieties may have butter flavoring added, which improves the flavor and gives the shortening a light golden color. Vegetable shortening can be stored at room temperature for a year or more if it is tightly covered.

    • Common Uses: baking, frying

Note: Most solid cooking fats can be called shortening because when they are used for baking, they produce a short, or flaky and crumbly crust. The more fat used in proportion to flour in a recipe, the shorter the crust. If the flour is in a greater proportion to the fat, the crust will be tougher and less flaky.

  • Margarine

    • Margarine has been a popular butter substitute for over a hundred years. Like butter, regular margarine must contain a minimum of 80% fat. It is made from various vegetable oils such as soybean and corn.

    • In order to produce margarine in hard sticks, the vegetable oil must undergo hydrogenation, which means that extra hydrogen is added to the oils.

    • This process changes the chemical composition of the oils, causing them to solidify. The hydrogenation process produces trans-fatty acids, which eliminates the unsaturated fats of the vegetable oils and converts them to solid saturated fats.

    • This is why many of the margarines on the market are no better or worse than butter in terms of health. Look for margarine that is low in trans-fatty acids.

    • Margarine can be used just like butter as a topping for bread, rolls, or biscuits, but it is much more spread able.

    • Margarine is often used in a variety of baked goods and can be used in any recipe requiring butter. It has a lower smoke point than many cooking oils so for many cooks, it is not the first choice for sautéing or frying.

    • Other types of margarine include:

      • Soft Margarine: formulated to be easy to spread.

      • Whipped Margarine: beaten vigorously to add air to the mixture, which makes it very easy to spread

      • Liquid Margarine: packaged in a squeezable bottle, making it easy to add to foods such as corn on the cob or for use as a basting medium

      • Reduced Fat Margarine: has as much as 65% less fat than regular margarine. It may not be as suitable for some baked goods as regular margarine or butter and because of a higher water content, it isn't as useful for sautéing or frying.

      • Fat-free Margarine: a much healthier spread than regular margarine, but it should not be used in baking. It also has a much higher water content than regular margarine so it should not be used for sautéing or frying.

    • Margarine should be stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for 2 months or more and for long term storage, it may be kept in the freezer for a half year or longer.

    • Like butter and other solid fats, margarine will absorb flavors and odors so it should be tightly wrapped or covered.

    • Common Uses: cooking, baking, condiment

The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer .  The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. .It should not replaced professional advise and consultation.  A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions 

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