February is National Heart Health Month; an educational campaign to make Americans aware of heart disease and steps you can take to delay and prevent it. One of the recommendations for heart health is to eat a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fats. What a tall order! And, do you understand the difference between the types of fat? According to Dr. Linda Bobroff, UF Extension Nutrition Specialist, fat is an essential nutrient in our diets. It is a source of calories and is needed to help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and can be used for energy. The problem with fat in our diets is that we consume too much of it. Fats are made up of a mixture of fatty acids, they can be saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fatty acids. Different fats vary in the combination of fatty acids; some are higher in one and less in the others. Saturated fats tend to raise cholesterol levels which increase your risk of heart disease; it is recommended we limit the intake of foods high in this type of fat. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and can be found in animal sources of food; examples are butter, cream, and fat in meat. The exceptions to the rule are coconut, palm and palm kernel oil, which are often used in baked good, cookies and crackers. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is part of all human and animal cells. It is needed to form hormones, cell membranes and other body substances. Since your body makes its own, you don’t need extra cholesterol in your diet. Cholesterol is classified into low density (LDL) and high density (HDL). Simply put, LDLs tend to stay in your blood stream, while HDLs are known to carry cholesterol out of your system. That is why doctors check for those numbers as well as a cholesterol number. Over time, high levels of cholesterol cause plaque to collect along the walls of your blood vessels resulting in restricted blood flow or blockages. It is recommended that you keep cholesterol intake to 300 mg. each day. Trans fats have been a hot topic in the news in recent years, they are formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats, although small amounts are found naturally in some animal-based foods. Examples of these fats are shortening and margarines. Like saturated fat, trans fats raise LDL cholesterol in blood, which increases the risk of heart disease. Manufacturers now have to label their products for trans fats which helps consumers identify the ingredients in a food. Because of shortening and palm oils, trans fats are commonly found in ready to eat baked goods such as cookies and crackers. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats to consume in your diet. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and tend to help lower cholesterol. Remember though, all fats are high in calories and should be used sparingly. Liquid oils like canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils are all high in monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature and are a healthier choice to use in food preparation. Corn oil is a fat that is high in polyunsaturated fats. So, the question now is how do you apply these recommendations in daily eating habits? When preparing food, use fat free milk, foods, lean cuts of meat, trimming visible fat and remove the skin from poultry. Forget frying altogether and choose low fat cooking methods such as baking, roasting, steaming or grilling. If you have a favorite family recipe that is high fat and can’t live without it, consider eating it less often, have a smaller portion or change the source of fat to a heart healthy ingredient. Reading nutrition labels and ingredients lists can help identify the amount of fat in a food product. Ingredients are listed in descending order. To keep your fat intake within reason, choose foods with fat listed lower on the ingredient list. The nutrition label will also list total fat; saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Choose foods with low amounts of fat, saturated and trans fats on the label. All fats are not equal, use unsaturated fats more often and overall, consume less fat in your diet. Start by reducing saturated fats and substitute them with monounsaturated fats. For more information on fat in your diet, call the Madison Extension office for your copy of “Nutrition for Health and Fitness: Fat in Your Diet.” The University of Florida Extension/IFAS – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.