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Information about fat

What is fat?

Dietary fat, along with protein and carbohydrates, provides energy in the form of calories. Fats can be described as liquid oils, such as soybean or corn, and as solid, like butter or the fat seen on meat. Fats can also be visible, like melted butter or margarine on toast or invisible in foods such as nuts or whole milk.

Dietary fat increases the appeal of many foods by heightening the flavor, aroma and texture. Because it digests more slowly, it remains in the stomach longer and helps us feel full and satisfied. Fat also provides almost twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate.

Some fat is necessary for good health. It helps in the transmission of brain and nerve signals, keeps our skin smooth, cushions internal organs, helps our bodies maintain temperature and provides most of the energy needed to perform much of the body’s work, especially muscular work. In addition to these functions, fat is necessary to help the body carry the vitamins A, D, E and K and to provide the needed fatty acids. In infants and young children, fat and cholesterol are essential for brain and nerve development.

Why should fat intake be controlled?

Populations that consume diets high in fat have more obesity and certain types of cancer. The higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol have also been linked to heart disease. A diet low in fat makes it easier for us to include the variety of foods needed for nutrients without exceeding calorie needs. At the present time, it is estimated that U.S. adults get about 37 per cent of their total calories from fat. The latest research tells us that Americans over the age of two should consume no more than 30 percent of their calories from fat. Remember that children’s diets low in fat may be too low in calories if the calories that came from fat are not replaced with adequate calories from other foods such as bread, cereal, vegetables and fruits.

Types of fats

Saturated fat These fats are found in large proportions in foods of animal origin. They include fats in whole milk, cream, cheese, butter, meat and poultry. Most saturated fats are hard at room temperature. Some vegetable fats like coconut and palm oil contain even more saturated fat.

Monosaturated fat – These fats are found in foods of both plant and animal origins. Olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil are the most common examples of this type of fat.

Polyunsaturated fat – This type of fat is found mostly in fats of plant origin. Sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed and safflower oils are vegetable fats that usually contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids.


High blood cholesterol levels are strongly linked to heart disease but a certain amount of cholesterol is needed for your body to produce hormones and to form the sheath around nerves. The liver produces all of the cholesterol your body needs. There is no need to take in cholesterol in food. Animal products are the source of all dietary cholesterol. There is no cholesterol in any vegetable oil nor in peanut butter. It is often irrelevant when the food manufacturers advertise their product has no cholesterol. All such products share the same distinction. The foods never had cholesterol so choice must be made based on different criteria. Eating less fat from animal sources will help lower cholesterol.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to “choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.” When planning our own meals and the meals for those in our care, we must strive to meet the goal to restrict the total calories from fat to 30 per cent of total calories in the diet. Remember that it is the total fat and cholesterol eaten in a day that counts and not just the individual foods. If you choose a food that is high in fat, balance that with an intake of fruits, vegetables and grains. Even though symptoms may not yet be exhibited, studies have found that plaque in the arteries is building up during the teen years.


  • Choose low fat dairy products.

  • Choose lean meats, fish, and poultry without skin.

  • Eat moderate portions of meat, poultry or fish, keeping total amount to five to seven ounces per day.

  • Use low fat preparation methods (bake or broil foods, don’t fry them).

  • Reduce the amounts of fasts added at the table.

  • Use liquid vegetable oils rather than solid fats and shortening, whenever possible.

  • Eat fewer high-fat bakery items and chips.

  • Choose foods from all groups to have a well-balanced diet, just be sure to choose wisely.

Source: The Lunch Line, Iowa Department of Education 

Updated August 22, 2017 7:09pm