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Eat Fewer Saturated and Trans Fats in Your Diet

Research shows that a diet high in saturated fatty acids causes blood cholesterol levels to rise even more than eating large amounts of dietary cholesterol does. Fats are made up of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and are categorized by the predominate kind of fatty acid that they contain.

The fats from meat, milk products, and tropical oils are the main sources of saturated fats in most American diets. Lesser amounts of saturated fat come from vegetable oils.

As a guideline, any fat that’s solid or semisolid at room temperature (think of butter and the fat on beef and other meats) is predominantly saturated fat. Your diet should provide less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. On the Nutrition Facts panel, 20 grams of saturated fat is the Daily Value for a 2,000-calorie level. That translates into a 13-gram maximum of saturated fat in a 1,200-calorie diet.

Trans fatty acids, trans fats, as they’re often called, are a type of fatty acid that forms during hydrogenation. A fatty acid becomes more saturated when hydrogen is added to it, a chemical change that makes a fat stable and solid at room temperature, which extends its shelf life.

For example, hydrogenating vegetable oil makes stick margarine. So the softer the margarine, the less saturated it is. Crackers are made with partially hydrogenated oils so that they don’t get stale quickly. Those conveniences come at a price. Trans fats are believed to be as much of a threat to heart health as saturated fats — maybe more. Evidence is mounting about how damaging trans fat can be.

In response, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed data to determine how the trans fatty acids content of food should be labeled. Beginning in January 2006, all food labels that are required to carry the Nutrition Fact panel must include the trans fat content.

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