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Dietary Fats – Understanding Some Basic Concepts
When it comes to living a healthy life, dietary fats are important for maintaining overall health. This is even more important as you get older. Therefore it is necessary to understand that your body needs a regular consumption of fat.
Consuming adequate amounts of dietary fat is important as it provides calories that your body uses for energy, supports cell growth, and protects and keeps your organs warm.
Your body also needs fat to enable it to effectively absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and to produce important hormones. Eating the right kind and in the right amount also helps to keep blood pressure under control.
However, it’s also important to understand that what you eat can affect your LDL (bad) cholesterol. It’s important to understand which types of fats can raise your LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t. This knowledge can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Some fats are also good sources of two essential fatty acids – linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
That’s why it’s important to understand that trying to get rid of all fat can deprive your body of one of its most essential nutrients.
Different types of fats
Fat is a complicated topic that inspires much debate among scientists and nutrition experts. The fact is that there is not just one “fat”, but different types of fat.
It is worth understanding the role that fats play in a healthy diet. Therefore, it’s good to take a closer look at four different types of fat: saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and trans fat.
You can find dietary fats in both animal and plant foods. The fact is that all dietary fats consist of a mixture of unsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids, in varying proportions. Also, oils are generally unsaturated fatty acids, although they do have small amounts of saturated fatty acids.
All four types have difficult chemical structures and physical properties. The reality is that some of these fats are good, some good or bad – depending on certain factors, while some are downright evil.
Bad fats – saturated and trans fats – are generally solid at room temperature. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid.
Regardless of their type, each gram of fat has nine (9) calories. Fats are naturally more calorie dense than carbohydrates and proteins which have four (4) calories each per gram.
Saturated fats are generally considered the “bad” fats. Their chemical composition is such that they do not have double bonds between carbon molecules, because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.
They are found naturally in many foods and are mainly sourced from meat and dairy products. These meat sources include beef, lamb, pork and poultry (with skin). Dairy sources of saturated fat include high-fat dairy foods such as butter, margarine, cream and cheese.
Plant-based sources of saturated fat include coconut, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. The others are palm oil and palm kernel oil which are generally called tropical oils. However, tropical oils generally do not contain cholesterol.
Additionally, sources of saturated fat include many fast, processed, and baked foods such as pizza, desserts, hamburgers, cookies, and pastries.
Chemically, monounsaturated fats are simply fat molecules that have an unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. They are generally liquid at room temperature, but begin to solidify when cooled. A typical example of unsaturated fats is olive oil.
Oils that are rich in unsaturated fats also contain vitamin E – an antioxidant. Foods that have high amounts of monounsaturated fats are vegetable-based liquid oils such as canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil.
Other good sources of monounsaturated fats include avocados and nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts and walnuts. Polyunsaturated fats are also found in seeds such as pumpkin, sesame and sunflower.
Polyunsaturated fats have more than one (“pole”, for poly) unsaturated carbon bond. Like unsaturated fats, they are also liquid at room temperature and become solid when cooled.
They are found in larger amounts in sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils. Other good sources include flax seeds, pine nuts, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and walnuts.
However, animal fats contain only small amounts of unsaturated fats. Seafood such as herring, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna contain high amounts of a type of polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids.
Trans fatty acids are mainly found in oils created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats are structurally different from unsaturated fatty acids and differ in their health effects.
Trans fats are found mainly in processed foods, such as fried foods, pastries, pizza dough, pie crusts and other baked goods. Some others are processed foods like cookies, muffins, crackers and even some brands of microwave popcorn.
Types of Dietary Fats to Eat?
The main health concern regarding the consumption of dietary fats is the effect they have on blood cholesterol levels. There are also serious concerns about the increased risk of inflammation that consuming saturated and trans fats can cause in the body.
Saturated and trans fats in food cause a much greater increase in LDL cholesterol. However, eating healthy fats from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help balance cholesterol by lowering LDL and increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
Eating foods that contain fat is definitely part of a healthy diet. The idea should be to choose foods that provide healthy fats, while at the same time aiming to maintain a caloric balance between the amount of calories you eat from foods and the amount of calories you burn.
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