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Fats 101

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Fats 101

Importance of Fats

Fat is a dietary component vital to human growth and development. Without fat, we cannot survive because it is an essential part of many physiological functions, including acting as a source of energy, assisting with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K), and maintaining healthy skin and cell membrane structure.

The structure of fat, or the way the fat is built, directly influences the way it is digested and absorbed through the body, and ultimately influences how it impacts your health. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults should consume 20-35% of daily calories from fat. Additionally, the guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of calories, avoiding trans-fat, and replacing these fats with unsaturated fats, primarily polyunsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and can be found in oils, nuts, seeds, and some fruits. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, such as animal fats, butter, coconut, and palm.

Good vs. Bad Fats

In June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made its final declaration that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans-fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. As of June 18, 2018, food manufacturers are no longer allowed to add PHOs to products. However, products produced prior to this date can remain on grocery shelves until January 2020. Until then, it is important to continue checking a food’s ingredient list to determine whether it contains PHOs.

While the FDA expects this action to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease and fatal heart attacks, trans fat isn’t the only fat that impacts health. There are four different types of fat that can appear on a nutrition label: trans, saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Some of these fats are “good” because they can have positive health benefits, and some are “bad” because they may negatively impact your health.

The “Bad Fats” are trans and saturated fats. Bad fats are shown to raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL), may lower “good” cholesterol (HDL) and can increase the risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke.

Trans and saturated fats can be found in many foods – including doughnuts, French fries, and baked goods including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, and stick margarines and shortenings. You can determine the amount of trans and saturated fats in a particular packaged food by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel. Or, ask your restaurant server if they know what oil was used to prepare the item.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 1% of your daily calories be devoted to trans fats, and less than 7% be devoted to saturated fats.

“Good Fats” are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are shown to improve cholesterol levels, may help reduce risk factors of heart disease and stroke, may help reduce risk of diabetes, could promote healthy nerve activity, are shown to improve vitamin absorption, are required to maintain healthy immune system and promote cell development.

Foods that contain good fats include several vegetable oils, including canola oil, sunflower oil, high oleic canola and soybean, like both Plenish® and Omega-9 Oils, corn oil, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.
The American Heart Association recommends 15-25% of daily calories should be devoted to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

For more information about good fats versus bad fats, visit the Good Fats 101 blog. You also may check out our fact sheet, Dietary Fats: The Good, The Bad and How to Eat the Right Ones.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fatty acids are molecules that contain one double bond on the ninth carbon atom. Because of this, monounsaturated fats are also known as omega-9 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts and avocadoes.

The Omega Comparison Chart breaks down the difference between polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) and monounsaturated fats (omega-9). See how the omega fatty acids add up.

Omega-9 Fatty Acids

Omega-9 fatty acids offer many health benefits. They are important for heart health and blood sugar control and can be obtained in the diet through foods such as canola oil, nuts and avocados and foods manufactured with this type of oil.

The intake of monounsaturated fats may induce a variety of positive health outcomes. Research shows monounsaturated fats may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke due to their ability to increase “good” HDL cholesterol, decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and eliminate plaque buildup in arteries. Additionally, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also indicates omega-9 fatty acids may play a role in increasing metabolism and improving mood. A research review in the Lipids journal suggests that using canola oil and canola-based spreads as a replacement for other dietary fats can help increase the number of North Americans complying with current dietary intake recommendations for dietary fats.

High Stability Oils

High stability oils, such as Omega-9 Canola Oil and Plenish® high oleic soybean oil, have high levels of oleic acid (>70%), an omega-9 fatty acid, developed specifically for use in foodservice and food manufacturing to reduce bad fats and increase good fats in the food supply.

High stability oils:

  • Have healthy fat profiles (high in monounsaturated fats, low in saturated fats, zero trans-fat). In fact, high oleic oils can now carry a qualified heart health claim on their labels.
  • Are naturally stable, which allows packaged foods to stay fresh longer without additives or artificial preservatives enabling clean labels. For the foodservice industry, this stability extends fry life.
  • Have a clean taste that doesn’t interfere with food’s natural flavors.
  • Are versatile — these oils can be used in a variety of applications including frying, par-frying, grilling, baking, cooking oils and sprays, dressings and spreads, margarines and reduced saturated fat shortenings, and non-dairy coffee creamers.

While high stability oils are not currently available in retail outlets, they can be found in many packaged foods and foodservice menu items. It’s likely you’ll see it when a product lists “high oleic canola oil” or “high oleic soybean oil” on the ingredient list. You might also see “canola oil” or “soybean oil” on the label, along with NO reference to preservatives like tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).

Polyunsaturated Fats

There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6. The difference between the two is where the first double bond occurs between carbon atoms.

Polyunsaturated fats are essential fatty acids, which means that the human body cannot make these nutrients and they must be obtained through food, such as vegetable oils, fish and nuts. Learn more by visiting the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid pages.

The Omega Comparison Chart breaks down the difference between polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) and monounsaturated fats (omega-9). See how the omega fatty acids add up.

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