6.9 – Putting your Knowledge into Action

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss ways to decrease saturated fat and increase unsaturated fat intake in your diet.


As you have read, dietary fats have gotten a bad reputation. We need healthy dietary fats not only to survive but to thrive. Create a shopping list and divide your list into columns for saturated fats, unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fat-free foods. Think about the foods you normally buy and write them down in the correct list. Try the example activity below.

On your next trip to the grocery store prepare yourself to read all of the food labels carefully and to seriously consider everything that goes into your shopping cart. As you refine your sense of dietary fat, here are key points to bear in mind:


Shopping for Groceries

Read and decipher food labels carefully so that you know exactly what types of fat a food item contains and how much fat it will contribute to your overall fat intake.  Look closely at your snack foods. What is the type of fat in your potato chips or tortilla chips? Is it an unsaturated oil? How about when you reach for that bag of cookies or candy? If you like to grab something from the bakery, what type of fat or oil was used to make that muffin, pie, donut, etc?

For snacks and daily eating, reduce your portions or eat less often if the food is high in saturated fats.  For example, if selecting pre-prepared foods, choose the ones without high-fat sauces in favor of adding your own flavorings. If selecting precooked meats, avoid those that are fried, coated, or prepared in high-fat sauces. A popular and healthy precooked meat food choice is the rotisserie chicken that most supermarkets carry.

When selecting meats to be aware of the need to compare different cuts—notice their fat content, color, and marbling. Higher-fat meats tend to have whiter fat marbled throughout.

Choose lean cuts and white meat as these are lower in saturated fat:

  • The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
  • The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
  • Choose lean ground beef. To be considered “lean,” the product has to be at least 92% lean/8% fat.
  • Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.
  • Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches instead of luncheon/deli meats with more fat, such as regular bologna or salami.

This list is part of a great protein tip sheet. Visit the Choose My Plate website.  for the complete document.

Reduce red meat consumption, processed meats, and whole-fat dairy products. A good replacement for red meat could be beans (black beans are very high in protein), nuts, poultry, and fish whenever possible. To reduce full-fat dairy items try their low-fat or nonfat counterparts such as mozzarella cheese.

Always choose plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as their phytosterols are a good competitor for cholesterol. Keep a collection of nuts in your freezer that can be added to your salads, stir-fry, one-dish foods, soups, desserts, and yogurts.

Saturated and trans fats are not good for you so you want to eat smaller amounts of these foods because they increase cholesterol levels and put you at risk for heart disease. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are better choices to replace these undesirable fats. The key in identifying fats while you shop is based upon appearance. When choosing fats remember that saturated fats and trans fats are solid at room temperature; think of butter. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature; think of vegetable oils.



An illustration of trans-fatty acids, and cis fatty acids in molecular form
Figure 6.9.1: When a lipid molecule is unhydrogenated, the double bonds between the carbons keep it kinky and a liquid at room temperature. If that fat realigns into the trans formation, it gets straighter, forming up into a solid.


Trans Fats

Stay away from trans fats. There is no amount of trans fats that are good for human health. Try to eliminate as much of these fats as possible from your food selections. Check the labels on commercial baked goods.


Choose unsaturated fats. Fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and canola oil all have good health benefits. If they are not on your shopping list, consider adding them to your list and including in your plan of eating.  They each provide essential omega-3 fatty acids necessary for overall body health. To derive the most benefit from including these foods, do not add them to an existing diet full of fat. Use these to replace the saturated fats that you are being removed from the diet. Be careful of exposing fats and oils to heat, light, and oxygen as they can be easily damaged. Exercise caution when heating oils. Polyunsaturated fats are the most fragile and lose beneficial properties when exposed to heat. For proper storage and freshness, place your oils in opaque containers and keep refrigerated. Do not use any oil if it has a bitter smell or taste.

Remember, low fat does not equal healthy. A fat-free label does not provide you with a license to consume all the calories you desire. In fact,  common replacements for fat in many fat-free foods are refined carbohydrates, sugar, and calories. Too much of these ingredients can also cause health problems. Choose and consume wisely.


Tools For Change

As a delicious alternative to red meat, try preparing and eating at least one meal each week using beans. For interesting ideas and tips, visit the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association Food Hub and search for bean recipes.


Helpful Suggestions

Keep the following in mind as you strive toward a healthier diet:


  • A “better-fat” diet will successfully support weight maintenance.  While cutting saturated fat calories are vital to health, remember that unsaturated fats are filling and just a handful of nuts can curb an appetite to prevent overeating.
  • Consume omega-3 fats each day. For optimal health and disease prevention include a moderate serving of fish, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, or soybean oil in your diet every day.
  • How much saturated fat is too much? Your goal is to keep your intake of saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of your total dietary calories on a daily basis. Thus, it is important to learn to reduce the intake of foods high in saturated fat. Foods containing saturated fats can be consumed but they must fall within the overall goal for a person’s fat allowance for the day.
  • Home cooking. Limit the use of saturated fats in-home preparation of meals. Instead of butter try spreads made from unsaturated oils such as canola or olive oils and the use of cooking sprays. Couple this with the use of herbs and spices to add flavor. Avoid using high-fat meat gravies, cheese, and cream sauces. Reduce the amount of butter or sour cream on a baked potato. Use nonfat sour cream or greek yogurt instead. Grill, bake, stir-fry, roast, or bake your foods. Never fry in solid fats such as butter or shortening. If you like the taste of butter, try sauteeing your foods in oil and add 1 teaspoon of butter to the oil. You will add the flavor of the butter with much less saturated fat. Marinate foods to be grilled in fruit juices, herbs and small amounts of oils. Instead of relying upon commercial salad dressings, learn to make your own top-quality dressing from cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil. Click here for an article that includes a basic vinaigrette recipe to get you started.

Make sure the fat is flavorful. Adding flavor to food is what makes the eating experience enjoyable. Why not choose unsaturated fats and oils that have strong flavors? In this way, you will add good flavor to your meals but use less fat in the process. Some examples are sesame oil, peanut oil, and peanut butter. Replace less flavorful cheeses with small amounts of strongly flavored cheeses such as romano, parmesan,  and asiago. Using a sharp or extra sharp cheese can help you flavor your foods with smaller amounts of cheese.

Now that you have gained a wealth of information and food for thought to enable you to make changes to your dietary pattern we hope that your desire to pursue a healthier lifestyle has been solidified. While we realize that making grand strides in this direction may be awkward at first, even the smallest of accomplishments can produce noticeable results that will spur you on and perhaps spark the interest of friends and family to join you in this health crusade.

Making better dietary choices requires gaining knowledge. As you understand that your food choices not only impact your personal physical health but also the delicate balance of our ecosystem, we are confident that you will successfully adapt to the dynamics of the ever-changing global food supply. Remember, the food choices you make today will benefit you tomorrow and into the years to come.


Key Takeaways

  • To reduce saturated fat in your diet, eat less red and processed meat and more fish and chicken. Choose lean cuts of meat and white meat portions. Bake, broil, or grill instead of fry. Avoid deep-fried foods, cheeses, and creamy cheese sauces. Remove the skin from chicken and remove as much fat from meat as possible. Choose low-fat milk and lower-fat cheeses, such as mozzarella, where possible. Use liquid vegetable oils such as olive oil or canola oil instead of shortening or butter.
  • To gain the most benefit from reducing your saturated fat intake, substitute unsaturated fats in the place of saturated fats and trans fats. Do not add unsaturated fats to an already fatty diet. Fill your plate with plant-based foods and use the foods containing fat more as an accompaniment.


Discussion Starters

  1. Think of at least three ways to reduce, substitute, and eliminate from foods you eat that are higher in less-desirable fat. List some foods that you will add to your diet to replace foods high in saturated fat with those rich in unsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
  2. Make a list of your favorite snack foods. Then make a listing of the fat content in each. Decide what snack foods you would want to reduce or eliminate from your diet. Think of at least two replacement foods for these snacks. Tell what benefits these replacement foods will have on your overall health.


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Nutrition 100 Nutritional Applications for a Healthy Lifestyle Copyright © by Lynn Klees and Alison Borkowska is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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