How to Read a Food Label

The Nitty Gritty on Fat

While the term "fat" often gets a bad rap, there are "good fats" that should be part of your daily diet. For instance, a healthy diet can contain 20 percent to 35 percent of its calories from fat. However, what really matters is the type of fat you consume. This is where food labels can be your biggest friend, as they clearly state how much saturated and unsaturated fat is in each product. What you want to look for is "unsaturated fat."
 
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include things like vegetable and nut oils, such as canola oil and olive oil. Unsaturated fats can be divided up into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. In general, the majority of your fat intake should come from these sources.
 
While your body still needs some saturated fat, it should not be more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. The bad thing about saturated fats is that they can increase your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.
 
What about trans fats? This type of fat comes from partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation is used by food manufacturers to make products containing unsaturated fatty acids solid at room temperature (making them more saturated). Partial hydrogenation means that some (not all) unsaturated fatty acids are converted to saturated fatty acids.
 
Trans fats are the worst of the worst, as they have been shown to be even more dangerous to the cardiovascular system than saturated fats. In short, the fewer trans fats you consume, the better off your overall health will be.
 
When looking for trans fats on food labels, you may have some confusion. Some products claim to be "trans fat-free." However, products can use this term if they contain less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. While this may not seem like much, if you continually eat that product, your trans fats content starts to add up. If you are looking for truly trans fats-free products, look for foods that say "does not contain partially hydrogenated oils." If you see "hydrogenated oil" listed in the ingredients, the product contains trans fat.
 
Be sure to check for both trans fat and saturated fat, as in some cases, companies may have replaced trans fats with saturated fat.
 
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