Lipids, or dietary fats, make up an essential part of your diet, but it's important to eat the right balance and the right kind for overall good health. Fats are found in a variety of different foods, making it easy for you to meet your needs.
Why You Need Fat
The fat in your diet plays a number of roles in your overall good health. While carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy, fat also acts as a source of fuel, most notably during long periods of exercise. It's also necessary for absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and for keeping your skin and hair healthy. Certain sources of fat in your diet contain the essential linoleic and linolenic fatty acids, which you may know better as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are important for brain function and blood clotting.
To meet your needs for good health, the publication Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommends you get 20 percent to 35 percent of your calories from fat, or 400 to 700 calories from fat on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Saturated, Trans and Unsaturated Fats
When it comes to health, not all food fats are equal. Saturated fats are naturally occurring and found primarily in animal foods. Eating too many of these types of fats raises bad cholesterol levels and increases risk of heart disease and stroke. It is recommended that you limit your intake of saturated fat to less than 6 percent of calories, or no more than 120 calories on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are primarily found in plant foods and, when consumed in place of saturated fats, lower bad cholesterol levels.
Trans fats are vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated, a process that hardens the oil. Foods high in trans fat affect health by increasing "bad" cholesterol levels and decreasing "good" cholesterol levels. Avoid all hydrogenated oils or foods that contain trans fats whenever possible.
Sources of Saturated and Trans Fats
Foods high in saturated fat include fatty beef, pork or lamb, poultry with skin, beef fat, lard, butter, cheese, cream, whole milk and reduced-fat milk. Braised beef liver, with 5 grams of total fat and 3 grams of saturated fat in a 3.5-ounce slice, is also a source of saturated fat in the diet. Eggs contain saturated fat, with 5 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat in one large hard-cooked egg.
Trans fats are primarily found in processed and fried foods such as frozen pizza, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, crackers, pie crust, biscuits and stick margarine.
Sources of Unsaturated Fats
To up your intake of monounsaturated fats, replace your saturated and trans fats with peanut, olive, safflower or sesame oil. Other foods rich in monounsaturated fats include avocados, peanuts and other nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats contain the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Meet your essential fat needs eating fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel; walnuts and flaxseeds; soy beans; and soy, corn and sunflower oils.