|The Skinny on Fat|
Over the years, fats have been both maligned and hyped for their health effects. We know that dietary fat can have a pronounced influence on heart health (see sidebar), but the link between the fats we eat and our cancer risk is not as clear. AICR’s expert report found a weak link between diets high in fat and cancer risk. Yet a steady stream of laboratory studies indicates that certain unsaturated fats may actually play a role in fighting cancer.
Everyone needs fat – it’s one of the essential nutrients our bodies require to function. Fat provides our body with energy, performs key regulatory functions and absorbs fat-soluble vitamins. It also contains relatively more energy – calories – than the other two nutrients.
But this higher calorie density means that eating too much fat can add up quickly, causing the body to store excess fat. And extra body fat is strongly linked to a higher risk for chronic diseases, including several cancers. Cancers most strongly associated with excess body fat include colon, kidney and post-menopausal breast.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults consume no more than 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. Saturated fats should provide no more than 10% of total calories, or even less for people with high blood cholesterol.
If you were eating about 2,000 calories a day…
Dietary fats come in both solid and liquid forms. The main types are:
|The Fat||What It Is||Where It's Found|
||beef, pork, poultry fat, butter, whole milk, coconut oils|
liquid at room temperature
||olive and canola oils, avocados, peanut butter, almonds|
||Foods fried in partially hydrogenated fats, processed foods, commercial baked goods, stick margarines|
Studies suggest that one type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3s, may be especially protective in cancer development. But there is another type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-6, which is found in many processed foods. Omega-6s are not unhealthy in and of themselves, but American diets tend to be far higher in omega-6 than omega-3. Some evidence suggests that bringing these two kinds of fat into closer balance a healthy ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s – may help protect against cancer.
Part of the protection of a healthy fat diet against cancer could relate to weight and protective plant compounds. Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans contain numerous cancer-fighting phytochemicals – and have little fat. Filling your plate with vegetables and fruits can also lead to weight loss.
To learn more about which fats to watch out for, read:
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