You need a small amount of fat in your diet for healthy functioning. Oils and fats supply calories and essential fats and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. The type of fat consumed is as important for health as the total amount consumed.
That's why it's important to choose healthier unsaturated fats. Eating too much and the wrong kinds of fats, such as saturated and trans fats, may raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol. This imbalance can increase your risk of high blood pressure, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack and stroke.
Canada's Food Guide recommends that you include a small amount – 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 tablespoons) – of unsaturated fat each day (also known as mono- and polyunsaturated fat). Make sure the oil you use in cooking, salad dressings, soft non-hydrogenated margarine and mayonnaise contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as olive, soybean, canola or peanut oils.
These have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. They're found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, non-hydrogenated margarine, avocados and some nuts such as almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans and hazelnuts.
These fats can lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol). One type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-3, which can help prevent clotting of blood, reducing the risk of stroke and also helps lower triglycerides, a type of blood fat linked to heart disease. The best sources of omega-3 fat are cold-water fish such as mackerel, sardines, herring, rainbow trout and salmon, as well as canola and soybean oils, omega-3 eggs, flaxseed, walnuts, pecans and pine nuts.
Another type of polyunsaturated fat is omega-6. It helps lower LDL cholesterol, but in large amounts it's thought to also lower the good HDL cholesterol. Eat it in moderation. Omega-6 is found in safflower, sunflower and corn oils, non-hydrogenated margarine and nuts such as almonds, pecans, brazil nuts and sunflower seeds. It is also in many prepared meals.
Foods high in saturated fat include fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, hard margarines, lard, coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), vegetable ghee, and palm oil. Saturated fat can raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
Like saturated fat, trans fat raises unhealthy LDL cholesterol but also lowers healthy HDL cholesterol. Try to limit products that list vegetable oil shortening or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients. Trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated margarines, deep-fried foods from fast-food outlets (fries, doughnuts), and many packaged crackers, cookies and commercially baked products.
How much fat should you eat in a day?
Remember that since all fats are calorie-heavy, you'll need to use even the healthier ones in moderation. A healthy eating pattern includes between 20% to 35% of your day's calories from fat. For women, this works out to 45 to 75 grams of fat a day, and for men, 60 to 105 grams of fat a day. (For example, 15 mL (1 tbsp) of oil equals about 14 grams.)
The amount of fat a child or adolescent needs depends on their height, build, gender and activity level. Young children need a slightly higher amount of fat for growth and development, but this need decreases as they age.
What is dietary cholesterol?
The liver makes about 80% of the cholesterol in your body. The other 20% comes from the foods you eat. The foods that raise your blood cholesterol the most are saturated fat and trans fat in such foods as fatty meat and whole-fat dairy products, snack foods and some ready-prepared foods. Foods that have high levels of dietary cholesterol include egg yolks, organ meats, shrimp, squid and fatty meats.
Dietary cholesterol only has an effect in some people. From a nutrition perspective, the best way to control blood cholesterol is to eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat. Studies show that for healthy people with no history of heart disease, diabetes or high blood cholesterol, eating an average of one egg per day (or seven eggs per week) does not increase the long-term risk of heart disease.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of dietary cholesterol for most healthy individuals is 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day with less than 7% of calories from saturated fat.
People with heart disease or diabetes are advised to limit themselves to 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day with less than 7% of calories from saturated fat. Do that by cutting down on foods that are high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat.
Last reviewed August 2012
Last modified August 2012
There's a place for salt in a healthy eating plan, but most of us consume two or even three times the recommended amount, often without even realizing it. We do, however, need small amounts of salt for healthy functioning, such as maintaining a proper fluid balance in the body.
The blood pressure connection
About one-third of people are sensitive to the sodium component of salt. This means that eating foods with too much salt can increase the amount of blood in the arteries, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you can lower your intake little by little each day, you can reduce blood pressure. Because our diets are generally so high in salt, everybody – even those with normal blood pressure – can benefit from reducing salt intake.
Foods with high salt content
About 80% of the salt we consume comes from processed foods, including fast foods, prepared meals, processed meats such as hot dogs and lunchmeats, canned soups, bottled dressings, packaged sauces, condiments such as ketchup and pickles, and salty snacks like potato chips.
Steps you can take to lower salt intake
Make as many meals at home so that you can control the amount of salt you add to your food.
When you’re grocery shopping, check the Nutrition Facts table on food products for sodium or salt.
Choose products that have a lower percentage daily value for sodium. Look for food products that are lower in sodium per serving. For example:
Ingredient and serving size
% Daily Value
Small serving of crackers (20 g)
Soups (125 mL condensed, 250 mL serving)
20% to 27%
Entrée (per serving = 720 mg)
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, please speak to your doctor about the amount of sodium you should be consuming on a daily basis.
To help reduce added, unnecessary salt:
Cut down on prepared and processed foods.
Look for products with claims such as low sodium, sodium reduced or no salt added.
Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit.
Reduce the amount of salt you add while cooking, baking or at the table.
Experiment with other seasonings, such as garlic, lemon juice and fresh or dried herbs.
When eating out, ask for nutrient information for the menu items and select meals lower in sodium.
Last reviewed January 2015
Have you noticed the growing amount of nutrition information in your grocery store these days? Here are a few things you can do to make your next trip a little easier.
Create a meal plan for the week around the four food groups: vegetables and fruit, whole-grain products, lower-fat milk products and alternatives and lean meat and alternatives such as fish, beans, nuts and soya.
Make a shopping list with the foods you’ll need for the week’s meal plan. This will help you avoid impulse decisions and high fat, high salt temptations.
Spend the maximum amount of time shopping in the outer aisles of the grocery store where youll find the vegetables, fruit, bread, meat and milk.
Divide up your cart into four quarters, based on the four food groups. Fill half the cart with vegetables, fruit and whole grains, one quarter with lower-fat dairy products and the other quarter with lean meat and alternatives such as fish, beans, nuts and soya products.
Read the Nutrition Facts table on most food packages. Choose products lower in salt, saturated and trans fat. Look for products that have 2 grams of fibre or more.
Last reviewed: April 2011
Last modified: October 2014
Canadians, it seems, love to eat out often. By making wise choices, you may not only treat yourself to some special dishes, but you also ensure that your restaurant meals fit into your overall heart-healthy eating plan.
When eating out, you're still in charge of what you eat even though you're not doing the cooking. More and more restaurants today are happy to accommodate individual preferences, so feel free to ask questions about how a dish is cooked or to make requests, such as asking for salad dressing on the side or having a baked potato instead of French fries. (You'll still want to avoid loading up your potato with sour cream, butter and bacon bits.) A steady diet of excess fat, calories and salt may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Many restaurant chains now post nutrition information on menus or on their websites consistent with the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods.
If you're going out for dinner, make sure you eat lunch or you may be too hungry to make healthy choices. At the restaurant, opt for a whole-grain offering from the breadbasket as opposed to higher-fat, buttery garlic bread. Appetizers tend to be very high in fat and calories, so choose a vegetable-based soup or a dark, leafy green salad with dressing on the side, instead of the deep-fried calamari or the creamy crab dip.
When you see the words baked, barbecued, broiled, charbroiled, grilled, poached, roasted, steamed or stir-fried, it most likely means the food is cooked with little or no fat and therefore a healthy choice.
Take a pass
When you see the words Alfredo sauce, au gratin, cheese sauce, battered, breaded, buttered, creamed, crispy, deep-fried, en croute, fried, hollandaise, pan-fried, pastry, prime, rich, sauteed, scalloped, gravy, mayonnaise, thick sauce, it usually means that the food is higher in fat and calories.
Similarly, foods that are pickled, smoked, or are served with soy sauce mean that the food is higher in sodium. (Ask for sodium-reduced soy sauce.)
Portion sizes in restaurants are often large, so share or take half of your meal home for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Read more about Canada’s Food Guide recommended portion sizes.
Keep dessert light and simple, such as fresh fruit with sherbet. If you can't resist a rich dessert, indulge occasionally or share it with your tablemates.
Last reviewed: January 2015