Nutrition Tips & Tricks Series: Your Guide on Proper Nutrition

Nutrition Tips & Tricks Series: Your Guide on Proper Nutrition

Most foods contain fat – some good, some bad. Good fats support numerous bodily functions, and when consumed in moderation, can actually help promote weight loss. Bad fats, and their close cousin cholesterol, are the ones that contribute to heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and possibly some types of cancer. This knowledge should translate into an awareness of fat types, the food items that contain them, and their critical nature in staying healthy.


Your body can utilize its own fat stores for various functions, however with today’s calorie rich foods, most of the time your body uses fats obtained from your diet. Dietary fats are one of three macronutrients, with carbohydrates and proteins being the remainder that provide energy to the body, as well as playing a crucial role in many metabolic processes. Some vitamins, for instance, must have fat to dissolve and be transported throughout the body.

There is, however, a very dark side to fats that could lead to some serious health issues down the road if consumed in excess; with mounting research showing that “bad” fats, and their close relative cholesterol, are contributing to obesity related health issues and cancer.

Bad Dietary Fats

There are two known types of “bad” dietary fats:

Saturated: Saturated fats are naturally found in animal products (meat fat, dairy, etc…) and are known to raise total blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Trans: Trans fats occur naturally in some foods too, however they are primarily created during processing when unsaturated fats are partially, or fully hydrogenated to make them easier to cook with and prevent spoiling. Trans fats, like saturated fats, can raise LDL cholesterol levels and cause arterial plaque to build, contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Unlike unsaturated “good” fats, most saturated and trans fats are solid at room temperature, such as butter, margarine, shortening, and beef/pork fat. Unsaturated “good” fats primarily come from plant products and are liquid at room temperature.

Good Dietary Fats

There are two primary types of “good” dietary fats:

Monounsaturated: Monounsaturated fats are found in a wide variety of natural food items, such as vegetable, nut, and seed oils (olive, safflower, peanut, corn, canola, etc…). Studies show that eating moderate amounts of foods high in monounsaturated fats actually improves blood cholesterol levels and decreases your risk of heart disease. Research indicates that these fats may benefit insulin and blood sugar levels, which can help prevent and combat type-2 diabetes.

Polyunsaturated: Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are found primarily in plant-based foods and oils, helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. One particular type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, has shown to be especially beneficial to your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in some types of fatty fish.

RecommendationMajor food sources This includes all types of dietary fat. Limit total fat intake to 20-35% of your daily calories. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 44 to 78 grams of total fat a day.Plant and animal-based foods. While no specific amount is recommended, the guidelines recommend eating foods rich in this healthy fat while staying within your total fat allowance.Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, poultry, nuts and seeds. While no specific amount is recommended, the guidelines recommend eating foods rich in this healthy fat while staying within your total fat allowance.Vegetable oils (such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils), nut oils (such as peanut oil), poultry, nuts and seeds. While no specific amount is recommended, the guidelines recommend eating foods rich in this healthy fat while staying within your total fat allowance.Fatty, cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel and herring), ground flaxseed, flax oil and walnuts. Limit saturated fat to no more than 10% of your total calories. Limit to 7% to further reduce your risk of heart disease. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, a 10% limit amounts to about 22 grams of saturated fat a day, while 7% is about 15 grams. Saturated fat intake counts toward your total daily allowance of fat.Cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts, and animal products, such as chicken dishes, sausage, hot dogs, bacon and ribs. Other sources: lard, butter, and coconut, palm and other tropical oils. No specific amount is recommended, but the guidelines say the lower the better. Avoid trans fats from synthetic (processed) sources. It’s difficult to eliminate all sources because of their presence in meat and dairy foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake to no more than 1% of your total daily calories. For most people, this is less than 2 grams a day.Margarines, snack foods and prepared desserts, such as cookies and cakes. Naturally occurring sources include meat and dairy products. Less than 300 milligrams/day. Less than 200 milligrams/day if you’re at high risk of cardiovascular disease.Eggs and egg dishes, chicken dishes, beef dishes and hamburgers. Other sources: Seafood, dairy products, lard and butter.

Recommendations for Dietary Fat and Cholesterol Intake
Type of fat
Total fat
Monounsaturated fat
Polyunsaturated fat
Omega-3 fatty acids
Saturated fat
Trans fat

*Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

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