“Lighten up” on your fats and oils

Let there be light. And reduced-fat. And low-cal.

Low-fat, reduced-fat and “lite” versions of products really do make a difference in your overall calorie intake, says Linda Stockman, MS, RD, LD, CDE, Registered Dietitian and Medical Weight Management Program coach.

“A great option when selecting products that are high in fat is to choose the one labeled ‘light,’” suggests Ms. Stockman. Products labeled “light” are reduced in fat, sodium or calories.

“When you’re eating things like margarine or mayonnaise — things that are fats — whenever you can buy a light or reduced-fat version, you can use twice as much for the same amount of calories, or — even better — you can reduce your calories by half. That is significant,” Ms. Stockman says.

“Whenever you can, choose the ‘light’ products. It’s going to make an extreme difference.”

Fat brings flavor to food. But it’s also high in calories and its overuse contributes to the obesity epidemic in the United States today.

Foods that are considered fats include:

  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cooking oil
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Salad dressing
  • Bacon
  • Avocadoes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Coconut

When you realize how much fat you’re really eating, you can see how easy it is to put on weight, Ms. Stockman notes.

“Every 6 to 10 nuts, for example,” Ms. Stockman says, “is like eating a teaspoon of oil. So if you have very many nuts, it’s like a half cup of oil you’re drinking. An eighth of an avocado is like eating a teaspoon of oil. One teaspoon of oil is 45 calories. There are three teaspoons to a tablespoon, and four tablespoons to a quarter-cup. Do the math. If you repeatedly eat a lot of fat, it will really impact your weight,” cautions Ms. Stockman.

What Is “Fat”?

Fats are a source of energy for your body. They can be either solid or liquid (oil). Fats contain fatty acids, essential for:

  • Brain development
  • Blood clotting
  • Controlling inflammation
  • Maintaining healthy skin and hair

Your body needs very little fat. The USDA recommended daily allowance is five to six teaspoons of fat per day.

Types of Fats

Different kinds of fat are used to flavor food. Some fats are more healthful than others. Generally speaking, fats made from vegetables are more healthful than fats from animal sources.

Saturated fat.  Saturated fat is leading cause of high LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, according to the National Institutes for Health. Saturated fats generally come from animal sources and some plant foods.

Saturated fat is found in these common foods:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Whole and 2% milk
  • Lard
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Palm oil
  • Coconut oil

“Unhealthful fats come from animal fats and tropical oils, so if you’re eating an animal product, then you have to expect to see some saturated fat on the food label. We want to avoid eating too much saturated fat,” Ms. Stockman says.

Trans fats. Trans fats, according to the NIH, can also raise your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels. According to the American Heart Association, trans fats generally come from partially hydrogenated fat (baked goods and fried foods, in particular) as well as animal fats.

Check food labels for trans fat when eating prepared food items. We should try for 0 trans fat in our diets, Ms. Stockman recommends.

“You’ll want to limit saturated fats and trans fats. When you’re buying something like crackers or cereal or a snack food, look at the nutrition label and compare the different kinds of fat. If most of the fat grams are saturated or trans fats,” Ms. Stockman suggests, “then you might want to look at choosing different brand, if necessary.”

The more healthful fats to eat are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.

Monounsaturated fats are found in:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Avocados
  • Some nuts and seeds

Polyunsaturated fats are found in:

  • Corn oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Most fish (salmon, tuna, trout)
  • Some nuts and seeds

“We like you to have no trans fats and only 7 to 10 percent of your fats from saturated fats. We’re all prone to heart disease in this country,” Ms. Stockman says, “so it’s really worth reading the labels and omitting these fats from our diets.”

Ms. Stockman: “And whenever you can, choose the ‘light’ products. It’s going to make an extreme difference. You’ll cut half the calories and make a much more heart-healthy choice.”

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“Lighten up” on your fats and oils