I know the column is titled Low-fat Tuesday, which is why I think it would be all the more appropriate to dedicate a column one week to all the research that shows that fat doesn’t need to be vilified and only certain types of fat are unhealthy.
You’ve done your homework! It’s true, Badgers, fat is not a villain. Dietary fat is an essential part of everyone’s diet. There are several different types of fat – all with different properties – which can make it a bit tricky to choose just the right one. Have no fear! After reading this article you will be armed to distinguish between fats that can be your friends and those that are foes!
There are three types of dietary fat: saturated, unsaturated and trans-fat. They differ in their molecular structure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that your total fat intake (that is, all three types combined) account for 20-35 percent of your daily calories.
Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature and comes primarily from animal sources like butter or high-fat cuts of meat. Some plant sources, such as coconut oil or palm oil (often added to processed baked goods like cookies and cakes) are high in saturated fat as well.
We will call saturated fat your frenemy. It is OK in small doses, but some studies have linked high consumption to an increased risk in chronic diseases, like heart disease, because it may increase your levels of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines say that saturated fat should translate to 10 percent or less of your daily caloric intake.
Now on to better news – unsaturated fat is definitely your friend! Unsaturated fat is usually an oil at room temperature and has are one of two sub-types: monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs). These terms simply designate a difference in chemical structure – all you need to know is that both are good for you!
Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oils, vegetable oils, nuts and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish (trout, herring and salmon), canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. The Dietary Guidelines state that most of your 20 to 35 percent of daily fat should come from MUFAs and PUFAs.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of PUFAs that are, perhaps, your besties. They have been shown to play a significant role in heart health and blood pressure regulation. They are “essential,” meaning they aren’t made in our body. Rather, we must eat foods that contain them for us to get their health benefits.
Now onto your enemy: trans-fats. Trans-fats rarely occur naturally in foods. They are considered artificial because they are made when liquid fats are processed into solids to create a different texture or to increase shelf-life. This process is called “hydrogenation” and it creates partially-hydrogenated fats that contain trans-fats. Fried foods and pre-packaged baked goods are high in trans-fats.
The problem is that, due to their chemical structure, trans-fats are metabolized in a way that they contribute to your LDL. When your ‘bad’ cholesterol is high and your HDL, or ‘good,’ cholesterol is low, your risk for developing chronic disease increases. Consumption of trans-fat should be as low as possible.
Now that you know which types of fats to keep around, and which to send packing, you can come up with a healthy eating strategy based on the Dietary Guidelines: Shoot for a total fat intake of 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories, choosing mainly MUFAs and PUFAs. To put this number into perspective, 1 tablespoon of olive oil translates into about 6 percent of the 20 to 35 percent recommended amount – so a little goes a long way!
So remember: Fat, if it is the right type, can be your friend!
Rachel ([email protected]) is a senior in the dietics program. If you want to ask a question (or suggest a new title for the column!) write to her at [email protected] For more information on the the Dietary Guidelines for Americans check out: www.choosemyplate.gov.
This week’s recipe of the week comes from Giada de Laurentis and is rich with just the right amount of MUFAs and PUFAs!
Baked Salmon (Serves 4)
4 (5 ounces each) salmon fillets
2 teaspoons olive oil plus 2 tablespoons salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tomatoes, chopped, or 1 (14 ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained
2 chopped shallots, or white onions
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Sprinkle salmon with 2 teaspoons olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir the tomatoes, shallots (onions), 2 tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper in a medium bowl to blend.
Place a salmon fillet, oiled side down, atop a sheet of foil. Wrap the ends of the foil to form a spiral shape. Spoon the tomato mixture over the salmon. Fold the sides of the foil over the fish and tomato mixture, covering completely; seal the packets closed.
Place the foil packet on a heavy large baking sheet. Repeat until all of the salmon have been individually wrapped in foil and placed on the baking sheet.
Bake until the salmon is just cooked through (opaque in the center), about 25 minutes. Using a large metal spatula, transfer the foil packets to plates and serve.