A Consumers Guide to Fats in Foods

Once upon a time, we didn't know anything about fat except
that it made foods tastier. We cooked our food in lard or
shortening. We spread butter on our breakfast toast and plopped
sour cream on our baked potatoes. Farmers bred their animals to
produce milk with high butterfat content and meat marbled with
fat because that was what most people wanted to eat.

But ever since word got out that diets high in fat are related
to heart disease, things have become more complicated. Experts tell
us there are several different kinds of fat, some of them worse for
us than others. In addition to saturated, monounsaturated and
polyunsaturated fats, there are triglycerides, trans fatty acids,
and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

Most people have learned something about cholesterol, and many
of us have been to the doctor for a blood test to learn our
cholesterol number. Now, however, it turns out that there's more
than one kind of cholesterol, too.

Almost every day there are newspaper reports of new studies
or recommendations about what to eat or what not to eat: Lard is
bad, olive oil is good, margarine is better for you than butter
then again, maybe it's not.

Amid the welter of confusing terms and conflicting details,
consumers are often baffled about how to improve their diets.
FDA recently issued new regulations that will enable consumers
to see clearly on a food product's label how much and what kind of
fat the product contains. (See A Little Lite Reading in the
June 1993 FDA Consumer.) Understanding the terms used to discuss
fat is crucial if you want to make sure your diet is within
recommended guidelines (see accompanying article).

Fats and Fatty Acids
Fats are a group of chemical compounds that contain fatty
acids. Energy is stored in the body mostly in the form of fat. Fat
is needed in the diet to supply essential fatty acids, substances
essential for growth but not produced by the body itself.

There are three main types of fatty acids: saturated,
monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All fatty acids are molecules
composed mostly of carbon and hydrogen atoms. A saturated fatty
acid has the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms attached to
every carbon atom. It is therefore said to be saturated with
hydrogen atoms.

Cholesterol is sort of a cousin of fat. Both fat and
cholesterol belong to a larger family of chemical compounds called
lipids. All the cholesterol the body needs is made by the liver. It
is used to build cell membranes and brain and nerve tissues.
Cholesterol also helps the body produce steroid hormones needed for
body regulation, including processing food, and bile acids needed
for digestion.

People don't need to consume dietary cholesterol because the
body can make enough cholesterol for its needs. But the typical
U.S. diet contains substantial amounts of cholesterol, found in
foods such as egg yolks, liver, meat, some shellfish, and whole-
milk dairy products. Only foods of animal origin contain

Government Advice
Dietary guidelines endorsed by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
advise consumers to:

Reduce total dietary fat intake to 30 percent or less of total

Reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of

Reduce cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams daily.
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