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Fats and Oils

Fats and Oils

Fats and oils are essential elements in any healthful diet. Fats do more than supply some important nutrients. They also make foods feel and taste rich and satisfying. They signal the stomach that enough food has been eaten, giving people the feeling of satiety that encourages them to stop eating before they overeat. Fats are found in some foods, notably meats, poultry, fish, cheeses, eggs, and nuts. The type of fats a food contains may be monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated. Each appears to have a different effect on the body.

Monounsaturated Fats

When findings about the Mediterranean diet were released, it seemed clear that the use of olive oil in those diets played a role in a generally lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. Monounsaturated fats have a tendency to lower the levels of certain types of cholesterol in the blood and raise others. The net result of this is that diets that rely upon monounsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats, are likely to encourage low levels of serum cholesterol. This means that the chances of developing atherosclerosis are reduced. Nuts and olives, as well as oils made from those foods, contain primarily monounsaturated oils.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Oils made from corn, safflower, and rapeseed (canola), and other vegetable sources are referred to as polyunsaturated. While these oils are still preferred over saturated fats in a healthful diet, they do not appear to have precisely the same benefits as monounsaturated fats. Vegetable oils are frequently used to prepare shortening and margarine. This process, known as hydrogenation, changes the overall structure of the fat. Instead of pouring at room temperature, these hydrogenated oils become "plastic", or solid at room temperature.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found typically in animal foods including butter, marbling in meats, lard, chicken skin, bacon, sausages and eggs. The so called "tropical oils" are also saturated fats. Examples like coconut and palm oils. Saturated fats have been linked to increase levels of serum cholesterol and an increased risk of developing cardio-vascular diseases.


This is a type of fatty acid found in animal foods. There is a distinction between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is that which is found in the foods themselves. Serum cholesterol is found in your bloodstream. When you have a blood test done to determine your personal cholesterol levels, the doctor will review specific components found in the blood, known as lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are associated with an increased risk of developing arteriosclerosis. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) appear to reduce the risk, since HDL actually removes LDL from your blood.

Certain individuals are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others. Learning how to reduce the amount of foods containing cholesterol in your diet is critical if you are one of those individuals. But, it may not always be enough. Your body produces cholesterol on its own, whether or not you eat foods containing it. Plant-based foods, even those high in fats and oils, do not contain cholesterol. This means that peanut butter, almonds, olives, beans and sesame seeds are all "cholesterol free".

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