Healthy intake: Oils are fats that contain a high percentage of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are liquid at room temperature. Although they are not a food group, oils are emphasized as part of healthy eating patterns because they are the major source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Commonly consumed oils extracted from plants include canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados. The fat in some tropical plants, such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil, are not included in the oils category because they do not resemble other oils in their composition. Specifically, they contain a higher percentage of saturated fats than other oils (see Dietary Fats: The Basics call-out box). The recommendation for oils in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level is 27 g (about 5 teaspoons) per day.
Key nutrient contributions: Oils provide essential fatty acids and vitamin E.
Considerations: Oils are part of healthy eating patterns, but because they are a concentrated source of calories, the amount consumed should be within the AMDR for total fats without exceeding calorie limits. Oils should replace solid fats rather than being added to the diet. More information on types of fats is provided in the Dietary Fats: The Basics call-out box, and information on the relationship between dietary fats and health is discussed in the Saturated Fats, Trans Fats, and Cholesterolsection, below.
Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. They supply calories and help with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Some also are good sources of two essential fatty acids—linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid.
All dietary fats are composed of a mix of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fatty acids, in varied proportions (Figure 1-2). For example, most of the fatty acids in butter are saturated, but it also contains some monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Oils are mostly unsaturated fatty acids, though they have small amounts of saturated fatty acids.
Figure 1-2.Fatty Acid Profiles of Common Fats and Oils
* Coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil are called oils because they come from plants. However, they are solid or semi-solid at room temperature due to their high content of short-chain saturated fatty acids. They are considered solid fats for nutritional purposes.
** Shortening may be made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which contains trans fatty acids.
DATA SOURCE:U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrition Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Release 27, 2015. Available at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/. Accessed August 31, 2015.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (polyunsaturated fats) are found in greatest amounts in corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils; walnuts; pine nuts; and sesame, pumpkin, and flax seeds. Only small amounts of polyunsaturated fats are found in most animal fats. Omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats found in seafood, such as salmon, trout, herring, tuna, and mackerel, and in flax seeds and walnuts. EPA and DHA are long chain n-3 fatty acids found in seafood.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated fats) are found in greatest amounts in olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, and safflower oils, and in avocados, peanut butter, and most nuts. Monounsaturated fats also are part of most animal fats such as fats from chicken, pork, beef, and wild game.
Saturated fatty acids (saturated fats) are found in the greatest amounts in coconut and palm kernel oils, in butter and beef fats, and in palm oil. They also are found in other animal fats, such as pork and chicken fats and in other plant fats, such as nuts.
Trans fatty acids (trans fats) are unsaturated fats found primarily in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and foods containing these oils and in ruminant (animal) fats. They are structurally different from the unsaturated fatty acids that occur naturally in plant foods and differ in their health effects.
The proportions of fatty acids in a particular fat determine the physical form of the fat:
Fats with a higher amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are usually liquid at room temperature and are referred to as “oils.”
Fats with a higher amount of saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature and are referred to as “solid fats.” Fats containing trans fatty acids are also classified as solid fats, although they may or may not be solid at room temperature.
A relevant detail in the complexity of making food-based recommendations that consider nutrients is the difference between the terms “saturated fats” and “solid fats.” Although they are closely related terms, saturated fats and solid fats are not synonymous. The term “saturated fats” refers to saturated fatty acids, a nutrient found in foods, while the term “solid fats” describes the physical manifestation of the fats in a food. Some solid fats, such as the strip of fat around a piece of meat, can easily be seen. Other solid fats are not so visible. For example, the solid fats in whole milk are suspended in the fluid milk by the process of homogenization.
Margarines and margarine-like vegetable oil spreads are food products composed of one or more oils or solid fats designed to replace butter, which is high in saturated fats. These products may be sold in sticks, tubs, bottles, or sprays. Margarine and vegetable oil spreads generally contain less saturated fats than butter. However, they vary in their total fat and calorie content and in the fat and oil blends used to make them and, thus, in the proportions of saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats they contain. It is important to read the Nutrition Facts label to identify the calorie and saturated and trans fats content of the spread and choose foods with no trans fats and lower amounts of saturated fats.
The Dietary Guidelines provides recommendations on saturated fats as well as on solid fats because its aim is to improve the health of the U.S. population through food-based guidance. It includes recommendations on saturated fats because of the strong relationship of this nutrient to a health outcome (CVD risk). It includes recommendations on solid fats because, as discussed in Chapter 2, they are abundant in the diets of the U.S. population, and reducing solid fats when making food choices is an important way to reduce saturated fats and excess calories
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