So long, trans fat. The Food and Drug Administration has decided to ban this artery-clogging substance from foods, calling it unsafe for consumption and a major public health concern. Proven to contribute to diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, trans fat has been under fire for more than a decade, and many food manufacturers and restaurants have already ousted it. But a government-ordered phaseout is another huge step in a healthier direction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that further decreasing the amount of trans fat Americans consume can prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths every year.
Even though the ban's been set in motion, it'll take years before trans fat goes away completely. So it's up to you to know where it is, as well as how to distinguish it from other fat types. Trans is just one of many dietary fats, which vary significantly in how bad – or how good – they are for the body. While some kinds, like trans fat, are basically heart-harming garbage, other fats are very healthy, even necessary for the body to function properly – as long as you don't overindulge. But it isn't easy to differentiate between the many different types of fat. Here's your guide.
Although it isn't quite as health-sabotaging as trans fat, saturated fat is no friend to your heart. It raises LDL cholesterol, a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes, and since many foods that are high in saturated fat also contain lots of cholesterol, they're a dual stress on the heart. Research shows that too much saturated fat also raises diabetes risk.
Unlike trans fat, which you should avoid altogether, a small amount of saturated fat is OK for your health – which is good, since it's fairly unavoidable. The American Heart Association suggests keeping intake below 7 percent of your total daily calories. If you eat 2,000 calories a day (which is a bit low for most men), that's about 16 grams of saturated fat.
Most of the saturated fat in our diets comes from animal products, such as red meat, skin-on chicken, butter, and milk, as well as foods made with them – cream-based sauces and dressings, ice cream, baked goods, and most anything fried. But certain plant-based oils, namely palm and coconut, also contain a lot of saturated fat. Even if you don't cook with these oils at home, restaurants often do, and they're ubiquitous in packaged snack foods.
To keep your intake low, look to the nutrition label and opt for foods that have either no saturated fat or just a small amount compared to the product's overall fat content and total calories. Eat red meat very sparingly, and always choose the leanest cuts possible — very little marbling with most of the fat around the edges so you can slice it off. Poultry without skin and fish tend to have less saturated fat overall.
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