Cancer Researchers Stress Recognizing 'Good' and 'Bad' Fats

June 2, 2006

Studies have shown that poor diet choices contribute to about 60% of the cancer cases in American women and 40% of the cases in American men, according to the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). The Bethesda, Md.-based organization says research estimates that approximately 30% to 40% of all cancers could be prevented if people ate more fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods and minimized high-fat foods.

In the pursuit of a low-fat diet, NFCR believes that it is important to understand the three types of fats and their nutritional roles:

  • Saturated fat,
  • known as "bad fat," is mainly found in animal products such as butter, cheese and fatty meats. Studies show that saturated fat makes the body generate more cholesterol, which increases blood cholesterol levels which can lead to heart disease, stroke and cancer.

  • Unsaturated fat
  • (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), known as "good fat," is mainly found in olive oil, nuts and fish. Unsaturated fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels.

  • Polyunsaturated fats,
  • known as essential fatty acids (EFA), serve as carriers for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E and carotenoids, while playing key regulatory roles in numerous biological functions, according to experts. This type of fat is mainly found in fish and leafy vegetables.

Additionally, all fats supply energy and can lead to increased body fat if consumed in excess. In an effort to transform your diet and reduce your risk of developing cancer, NFCR suggests the following guidelines:

  • Keep a food diary to record meals, food portions, and their nutritional value.
  • Experts recommend limiting fat intake to 30% of daily calories.

  • Increase vegetables, grains, beans, and fruit in all your meals.
  • These foods are packed with cancer-fighting agents, including antioxidants and phytochemicals.

  • Minimize vegetable oils when cooking.
  • Instead use olive or canola oils, which are good sources of monounsaturated fats.

  • Choose leaner cuts
  • of meat, fish, skinless poultry and low-fat dairy products.

  • Limit yourself to smaller portions
  • of high-fat desserts and candies.

  • Avoid ordering fried foods when dining out.
  • Request butter, sauces and dressings on the side and order smaller portions.

For more information on the National Foundation for Cancer Research visit or call (800) 321-CURE.

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