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Facts on Fat

What is fat and why do we need it?
Fat is a class of nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water.  Fat is part of the structure of every body cell.  It supplies energy and carries vitamins to various parts of our bodies.

Where do we get fat from?
Mention fat and most people think of fried foods, butter and rich desserts.  While these are significant sources of dietary fat, many fats are not so obvious.  Fat is a component of many foods, from meats to dairy products to nuts.  In addition the these naturally occurring fats, the American diet is rich with added fats.  During processing, many "hidden" fats are added to food.  Fats seem to be the ingredient that help foods taste better, keep longer and even look prettier.

Food fats or total calories from fat comes from these sources

Whole Milk


Meat Group


Fruit & Vegetable Group


Grain Group


Others (Dessert, Snacks, Alcohol)



Is all fat the same?
No.  Fat in food is a combination of three types of fatty acids.  Fat and fat containing foods are classified by the fatty acid which is found in the largest amount.  Most foods contain a combination of all types of these fats.

All fats are not created equal when it comes to good health and prevention of heart disease.  Some types of fat increases harmful or plaque-forming cholesterol in there arteries, which can lead to hear disease.  These include saturated or hydrogenated fats and cholesterol.  Other fats from the unsaturated  group (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) exhibit a protective effect and help keep levels of plaque-forming cholesterol low when used in moderation.

What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are oils from animal products and some plants (including coconut and palm) that are solid at room temperature.  Common foods high in saturated fats include whole milk, most cheeses, lunch meats, butter, ice cream, chocolate, non-dairy creamer made from coconut oil, and whipped cream style toppings.  While red meats (beef and pork) are reputed to have high levels of saturated fats, the actual fat content varies a great deal depending upon the cut of the meat and method of preparation.  Many cuts are worth their weight nutritionally.

What types of food are low in saturated fats?
A diet high in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice and whole grain breads and cereals is low in saturated fat.  Other diet basics in this group include skim or low fat dairy products, and chicken, turkey or fish prepared without added fat.

What are polyunsaturated fats?
Polyunsaturated fats are found in oils from vegetable products that are liquid at room temperature.  They include safflower, sunflower and corn oils.  Used in moderation, these fats can help lower blood cholesterol and remove excess cholesterol from the body.

What about monounsaturated fats?
Olive, sesame and peanut oils are monounsaturated fats.  Other vegetable oils high in monounsaturated fat include canola oil. Research indicates that substituting monounsaturated fats for saturated fats helps lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides and reduces the risk of heart disease.

The table below breaks down common dietary fats into saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated components:

Common Fats





68 (%)

24 (%)

4 (%)

Canola Oil




Coconut Oil




Corn Oil




Olive Oil




Peanut Oil




Safflower Oil




Sesame Oil




Soybean Oil




Sunflower Oil




Many baked goods contain "hydrogenated" vegetable fats.  Are hydrogenated fats food for you?  Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable fats are manmade counterparts to saturated fats.  They are made by mechanically treating liquid oils to produce "plastic" fats.  The process allows cookies to be crispy, brownies to be chewy and crackers to be crunchy.  While it is almost impossible to avoid hydrogenated fats, purchase products made from liquid vegetable oil whenever possible.

Is oily fish good for your heart?
Certain types of oily fish are very high in a type of fatty acid called Omega 3.  Omega 3 has been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Types of fish that contain large amounts of Omega 3 fatty acid include salmon, albacore tuna, rainbow trout and mackerel.  Many studies indicate that a diet which includes fish on a regular basis (two to three times a week), prepared without additional fats, is a good practice to follow in the pursuit of a heart healthy diet.  The addition of oily fish provides another cholesterol-reducing advantage.  Caution:  Avoid supplements in the form of fish oil capsules.  These are not recommended as the best source of Omega 3 fatty acid and may add more fat to your diet.

Taking positive steps
Lowering total fat in our diets is beneficial in the prevention or intervention of many diseases.  You can make a great start by following these guidelines:

  • Substitute fish for high fat meals or protein sources such as fatty red meat or fried chicken, two to three times a week.  Include salmon, mackerel, bluefish or sardines regularly.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat such as flank steak, ground chuck or filets.
  • Substitute frozen yogurt or sherbert for ice cream.
  • Limit eggs, organ meats and cold cuts.
  • Use liquid vegetable oil in place of solid shortenings.
  • Develop a list of low fat snacks to fall back on when hunger hits.
  • Use one percent or skim dairy products.
  • READ THE LABEL.  Avoid products made from animal fats such as lard, or coconut and palm kernel oils.  Keep hydrogenated fats low on the ingredients list.  Nutritional labels are also required to show the total grams of fat in a serving of any food product, as well as the calories.  To keep your fat intake below 30 percent of total calories, use the chart below:

Total Calories

Keep Fat Below


3 grams


5 grams


6 grams


8 grams


10 grams


12 grams


14 grams

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