English physician Thomas Moffet once observed, “Men dig their graves with their own teeth and die more by those fated instruments than by the weapons of their enemies.”

Though spoken in 1600, these words ring especially true today, when the value of a meal is not defined by the quality but the quantity of food.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with fat. Our high fat consumption is ironically balanced by the amount of “reduced fat, “low fat” and “fat-free” products lining our supermarket shelves. So what is fat? Are there different types? Are all fats bad?

In fact, fats are a necessary part of our diet. They promote normal tissue growth, keep us warm in the winter, and prevent drying and flaking of our skin. But some forms of fat have hidden health risks and should be limited in their consumption.

Fats may be divided into two groups ? saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats mainly come from animal sources, but also coconut and palm oils.

Diets high in saturated fat have been connected with breast, colon, lung, prostate and rectal cancers. They also stimulate the liver to produce more LDL cholesterol ? the bad cholesterol ? and lead to high rates of heart disease.

For these reasons, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that people limit saturated fat to less than 10 percent of their daily caloric intake.

The unsaturated fat category can be divided into mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest fats. They have been known to reduce the level of LDL cholesterol when replacing saturated fat in the diet.

This type of fat is found in olive, canola and peanut oils, as well as avocados and nuts.

Scientists now believe the longevity of the Mediterranean people are due to their low intake of animal fat, along with their extensive use of olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats, found in soybean, corn, safflower and sunflower oils, are healthier than saturated fats. However, diets too high in polyunsaturated fats can suppress the body’s production of HDL cholesterol ? the good cholesterol.

Those are the major forms of fat produced in nature, but man has developed methods of chemically altering fat.

Hydrogenated ? chemically treated ? fats should be avoided at all costs. The chemical alteration they undergo produces a fat that is difficult for the body to metabolize. These fats have been associated with cancer.

Also called trans fats, they are difficult to avoid as they are used in hundreds of processed foods to protect against spoiling and to enhance flavor.

Read the list of ingredients ? if it includes hydrogenated fats, pick another food.

Lastly, there are two types of fats that the human body cannot produce on its own ? Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Since Omega-6 fat is found in various vegetable oils, the average American consumes plenty.

Omega-3 fat is more difficult to come by. You should try to include it in your diet by eating raw nuts, seeds, beans, fish oil and unrefined vegetable oils.

Therefore, saturated fats and trans fats are the only fats that you should try to eliminate from your diet. Replace these fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

The American Heart Association recommends that daily fat intake should be less than 30 percent of total calories, and saturated/trans fat intake less than eight-10 percent.

Take control of your diet today and make Dr. Moffet eat his words by surviving long enough to be slain by your enemies.

Dashkoff can be reached at pdashkoff@campustimes.org.

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