Is there a difference between all the fats and oils that are on the shelves in the supermarket? Yes, there is a difference. Some fats will be solid or semi-solid at room temperature or on the counter top, while others will remain or become liquid or melt if left at room temperature.
The amount and type of fat that is consumed can make a difference in our bodies. The dietary recommendation for fat is to consume:
Less than 35 per cent of total calories from fat, with an emphasis on fats and oils from plant sources.
Less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.
Less than 10 per cent of fat intake should be from saturated fat.
Fats are made up of fatty acids - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids are found in meats, such as the fat on chicken, beef or pork. Saturated fats remain semi-solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fatty acids found in plants are liquid at room temperature and are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
Foods from animals such as beef, chicken, fish, goat, milk, cheese and eggs, in addition to having saturated fat, have cholesterol. Cholesterol is found only in animal foods because animals have a liver and the liver makes cholesterol. Hence, plants do not have a liver and, therefore, foods from plant sources do not contain cholesterol.
So the question now is, how should I choose the oils and fats for better health?
All oils have a combination of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Plant oils that naturally are high in saturated fat include coconut and palm oils. But coconut oil, a Jamaican favourite, in its virgin state, is a better choice than hydrogenated oils because of its chemical make-up, which includes high levels of lauric acid.
Corn, soybean, olive, safflower oils are high in unsaturated fatty acids, but these oils are usually hydrogenated (changed to trans fats) to make margarines in tub and stick forms, shortening and used in the preparation of deep fried foods and baked products such as patties, cookies/ biscuits, chips to increase shelf life.
Recommendations for choosing a margarine:
The oil in the ingredient list should be 'non-hydrogenated'.
Water should be the first ingredient on the list if it is a margarine spread.
Product should soften or separate oil and water, if not stored in refrigerator.
Fat in some foods are hard to detect and provide lots of fat in the diet. Foods that have 'hidden fat' include:
Tarts and pies
Reduce your intake of dietary fat by:
Removing skin and visible fat from all animal flesh.
Skimming fat from soups and stews.
Using less oil/margarine/ butter/spreads/ salad dressings and gravies.
Using low fat or skimmed milk when preparing meals.
Reading nutrition facts labels for the presence of animal fats in such foods as bacon, chicken/beef/ham fat, lard, butter, cream, nuts, egg or egg yolk solids, partially hydrogenated shortening or vegetable oil. These foods are high in saturated fats. Note that on a food label, ingredients are listed by order of weight. So if fat appears in the first five items then the item may be presumed to be high fat.
Choosing foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
Choosing foods that are high in unsaturated fatty acids, and that are free of trans-fats.
Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, peas, beans and whole grains, which are fat free.
Our bodies need dietary fat, but choose more unprocessed foods, and eat in moderation!
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.