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Fat facts

June 06, 2000

What you need to know about fat




There are three kinds of fats in the foods we eat - saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Most foods contain all three types of fat, but in varying amounts.

Only saturated fatty acids and dietary cholesterol raise blood cholesterol. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks.

Saturated fat

Fats and oils high in saturated fatty acids tend to become hard at room temperature. Butter, lard and tallow from animals, and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils from plants are common examples.

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Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fat

Oils that stay liquid at room temperature are high in unsaturated fats. They include corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, olive and canola (rapeseed) oils. All are low in saturated fatty acids and can be used to help lower blood cholesterol in a diet low in saturated fatty acids.

Safflower is the most polyunsaturated oil. Soybean, sunflower, corn and sesame oils follow in descending order. If a brand name does not specify the type of oil, look at the ingredients list. Some oils are mixtures.

Canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil are primarily monounsaturated. They appear to lower blood cholesterol when consumed in a diet low in saturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils are the kinds of fats you want. Five to eight teaspoons of these fats and oils daily is a reasonable amount.

Hydrogenated oils

These are ordinarily found in liquid form at room temperature but have been artificially hardened to produce margarines and shortenings. Their effect on blood cholesterol depends on how much they are hydrogenated. It's best to look for margarines that have the hydrogenated oil listed as the second ingredient.

- Source: American Heart Association

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