Everybody wants a flat stomach with a six pack, and can probably feel the six pack buried in there somewhere – but why won’t it show it’s face??  The answer is that it’s hidden beneath a layer of fat.  To have a six pack you need to drastically reduce your fat intake so your abs have nowhere to hide!

Again, understanding what foods and drink are high in fat are the key.  You might not eat chips and think you have cut it out, but have you?

Your body does need fat – just the right type in the right amounts. Saturated fats, as found in red meat and dairy products are required by the body in small amounts and should make up just 10% of your overall calorie intake. Mono-unsaturated fats include olive oil and most other natural oils and are the healthiest fats. These fats should make up the majority of daily fat intake.

After the low-fat and fat-free craze of the nineties, many people still fear fat or just don’t understand it. It may come as a surprise that fat is very valuable to your health. Some kinds are good for you, while others are not.

These heart-healthy fats are part of a cholesterol-lowering diet:

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated Fats are the healthiest fats. They decrease your total blood cholesterol but maintain your HDL (good) cholesterol. Ideally, most of the fat in your diet should come from this group, which includes: almonds, avocadoes, cashews, canola oil, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, natural peanut butter, olive oil, olives, pecans, peanuts, peanut oil, pistachios, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and tahini paste.

Certain margarines (those made primarily of the oils listed above) also fall into this healthy category of fats. But exercise caution when choosing one. Avoid those that list any form of “partially hydrogenated” oil in the list, which is a red flag for unhealthy trans fats (explained below).

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated Fats are somewhat healthy fats that decrease your total blood cholesterol by lowering both the LDL (bad) cholesterol and the HDL (good) cholesterol. Lowering your total cholesterol is great, but because these fats also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol, you should only enjoy them in moderation. You’ll find polyunsaturated fats in corn oil, mayonnaise, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

A special group of polyunsaturated fats is called Omega-3 fatty acids. These are heart-healthy and can be found in high-fat fish (albacore tuna, mackerel and salmon), other seafood (herring, lake trout, oysters, sardines, shellfish and shrimp), and plant sources (butternuts (white walnuts), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hempseed and hempseed oil, soybean oil, and walnuts).

Certain margarines and most salad dressings (those made primarily of polyunsaturated or omega-3 fats) also fall into this somewhat healthy category.

Now that you know which fats to include as part of your cholesterol-lowering plan, it’s time to learn about the types of fats that are bad for your health.

Unhealthy fats

Avoid these unhealthy fats:

Saturated fat is unhealthy fat that increases both your total cholesterol and your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Some experts say that limiting your saturated fat intake is one of the most important cholesterol-lowering tips you can follow. No more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fats—that’s about 15-25 grams daily, depending on your calorie needs. Keep this number as low as possible. Try to limit or avoid these sources of saturated fat: bacon, bacon grease, beef, butter, cheese, cocoa butter, coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, cream, cream cheese, ice cream, lard, palm kernel oil, palm oil, pork, fatty poultry i.e. duck, sour cream, and whole milk.

Although some fats (monounsaturated, Omega-3’s) are healthier than others (saturated and trans fats), it’s important to remember that fats are still high in calories. Consuming too many—even the healthy ones—can result in weight gain. So limit your total fat intake to less than 30% of your total calories each day. This is about 45-65 grams each day (more or less depending on your calorie needs).

Trans fats

Trans Fat is the unhealthiest fat you can eat! It increases your total cholesterol and your LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. Even eating a small amount of trans fats significantly increases your risk of heart disease—especially if you already have risk factors like high cholesterol. Limit your intake of trans fats as much as possible. Experts haven’t established any level of trans fats as safe, so keep you intake near 0 grams.

Food products that contain trans fat include vegetable shortenings, hard stick margarines, crackers, chocolate, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, doughnuts, pastries, baking mixes and icings, store-bought baked goods, bread, crackers, cereal, macaroni & cheese, frozen pizza, donuts, and cookies.

Trans fats are oils that have been chemically-altered (through a process called hydrogenation) from their original liquid states, into solid shortening. The process increases the shelf life of the oil and improves the texture of the food to which the oil is added.

However, when you add those foods to your diet you’re increasing your risk of heart disease because trans fats are artery-clogging professionals.  In fact, the Nurse’s Health Study of 80,000 women found that a 2% increase in trans fat consumption increased a woman’s risk of heart disease by 93%.

Take a stroll down the cookie or snack aisle of your local supermarket and you’ll see ”No Trans Fat” or “Now with Zero Trans Fats” splattered all over food packages.

If you find yourself wondering what the heck trans fat is, how it got into your food in the first place, or why it’s gone now, then read on to find the answers to these questions and more.

What is trans fat?

Trans fat is created through a process called hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen molecules to highly unsaturated (liquid) oil, such as vegetable oil, corn oil, or soybean oil. After hydrogenation, the oil is called “partially hydrogenated” when listed on the package’s ingredients list, and it contains trans fats.

Why do manufacturers use hydrogenated oils?

Years ago, manufacturers predominately used animal fats such as lard, beef tallow, and butter when making baked and fried foods. Later, when scientists discovered that these saturated fats contributed to heart disease and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, food companies started looking for alternatives to these saturated fats.

Hydrogenation makes oils more stable and solid at room temperature. This improves the baking characteristics of the liquid oil as well as the taste and texture of the end product. Partially hydrogenated oil provided a good alternative when it came to taste, texture, and stability, and manufacturers started using these oils instead of animal fats. Years later, scientists discovered that both saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk for heart disease.

 Which products contain partially hydrogenated oil and trans fat?

Food products that contain trans fat include vegetable shortenings, harder stick margarines, crackers, chocolates, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, doughnuts, pastries, baking mixes and icings, and store-bought baked goods. You may think that trans fat primarily comes from margarine, but margarine accounts for less than 20% of the trans fat in the average American’s diet. Some meats and dairy products naturally contain small amounts of trans fat.

How can I tell if a food contains trans fat?

Even though trans fats are bad for your health, and about 40% of foods on supermarket shelves contain them. To help consumers reduce the amount of trans fat in their diets, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food companies to list the grams of trans fat that a food contains on the Nutrition Facts label. This requirement began in January 2006. But if the particular package you’re perusing entered interstate commerce before the law took effect, then the label may not be accurate.

How can a food list zero grams of trans fat on the label, but still contain partially hydrogenated oil in its ingredients?

Currently, the FDA’s label regulations state that when one serving of a product contains less than 0.5 grams of any nutrient (including trans fat), then the amount is considered nutritionally insignificant and can be expressed a “0 grams” on the Nutrition Facts label. So in this case, the product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. While it may not seem like a lot, when you consume more than one serving in a sitting, or more than one serving of that food over time, it can really add up.

If the word “hydrogenated” appears in the Ingredients list, does that automatically mean that the food contains trans fat?

Not always. “Partially hydrogenated” oils DO contain some amount of trans fat, but fully “hydrogenated” oils become predominantly saturated fat and do NOT contain trans fat. These fats are included in the saturated fat listing on the Nutrition Facts label.

Do restaurant foods contain trans fat?

While food companies are required to list trans fat on their labels and are working to find healthier substitutions, the restaurant industry has not received the pressure to change. Many restaurants prefer to fry their foods using partially hydrogenated oils, resulting in a high trans fat content in the food.

For now, the best way to avoid trans and saturated fats when dining out is to skip the fried foods, including French fries and all fried vegetables, fish, seafood, chicken, appetizers, and pastries. You can also ask for an ingredients list and find out what kind of oil is used for frying or cooking. Some restaurants that voluntarily list their nutrition facts online or in print also include trans fat contents of their foods.

Is there a guideline or limit on how many grams of trans fat we should consume?

Although scientific reports have confirmed a relationship between trans fat and an increased risk of coronary heart disease, researchers have not yet established a reference value for trans fat. Instead, they are advising consumers to eat as little trans fat as possible. One study published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research found that eating more than five grams of trans fat per day can increase your risk of heart disease by 29 percent. When comparing foods at the supermarket, choose the food that is lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.

But you can still have your cake, eat it, and have a healthy heart too. Just avoid products that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or shortening as an ingredient.  Your heart will thank you!

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