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Learning About Fats

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What Is Fat?

The name fat may make it sound like something you shouldn't eat. But fat is an important part of a healthy diet. Fat from your diet gives you energy. As a bonus, fat in food helps you feel full, so you don't eat too much.

Some foods, including most fruits and vegetables, have almost no fat. Other foods have plenty of fat. They include nuts, oils, butter, and meats like beef.

What Are the Types of Fat?

You might see ads for foods that say they're "low-fat" or "fat-free." Low-fat diets have been recommended for health and to help people lose weight. But nutrition experts are finding that fats are more complicated. Some people who cut back on fats end up eating a lot more sugar and carbohydrates, and that's not good for you.

Some kinds of fat are better than others and are actually good for your health. Here are the three major types:

Unsaturated fats: These are found in plant foods and fish. These fats are good for heart health, especially when they're used in place of saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats are found in salmon, avocados, olives, and walnuts, and vegetable oils like soybean, corn, canola, and olive oil.

Saturated fats: These fats are found in meat and other animal products, such as butter and cheese. Saturated fats are also in palm and coconut oils, which are often used in baked goods you buy at the store. Eating too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the chance of getting heart disease.

Trans fats: These fats are found in stick margarine. Trans fats are also found in certain foods that you buy at the store or get in a restaurant, such as snack foods, cookies and cakes, and fried foods. When you see "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils on an ingredient list, the food contains trans fats. Trans fats are also listed on the food label. Like saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol and increase the chance of getting heart disease.

Why Do We Need Fat?

Fat helps a kid's body grow like it should. Fats fuel the body and help absorb some vitamins. They also are the building blocks of hormones and they insulate the body.

So fat is not the enemy, but you'll want to choose the right amount — and the right kind — of fat. If you're getting most of your fat from lean meats, fish, and heart-healthy oils, you've already made fat your friend!

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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