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A Lesson On Fats

Many people have grown up thinking all fat is bad. You may be thinking you should eliminate as many fats as possible from your diet in order to keep your weight gain in check. That's not really the best plan because fat is an essential nutrient that is vital to you and your baby. Fat supplies the body with energy and transports vitamins A, D, E, and K into the bloodstream.

Good fats. Unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) have earned the title of "good" fats because they are believed to raise levels of helpful cholesterol (HDL) in the blood. These fats are found in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, olives, and other plant foods.

Bad fats. The so-called bad fats are cholesterol, saturated fat, and hydrogenated fats, also called trans fats. Saturated fat and cholesterol are found in animal foods such as fatty meat, poultry skin, bacon, butter, egg yolks, and full-fat dairy products. That's right -- all the tasty stuff. These "bad" fats can damage your heart by increasing levels of harmful cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and decreasing levels of HDL. You can cut down on these fats fairly easily by choosing non-fat dairy foods and leaner types of meat, fish, and poultry; limiting eggs to about one a day; and cutting down or eliminating your butter intake.

The other fat to avoid is hydrogenated fat, which contains trans fatty acids, or trans fats; these are even worse for the heart than saturated fats or cholesterol. The current federal dietary guidelines advise people to keep their intake of trans fat very low -- just a couple of grams daily. That's not easy: Hydrogenated fat is often an ingredient in commercially prepared foods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, and fast-food french fries and fried chicken.

If a food label doesn't show how many grams of trans fats the food contains, look for words such as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "vegetable shortening," which indicate that trans fat is present. The best way to reduce your intake of trans fats is to cut down on commercially prepared foods and eat more unprocessed foods.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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