An introduction to dietary fats
Contrary to health trends of the late 80’s/early 90’s dietary fats are not only safe to eat but essential to our diet as they are necessary for a variety of functions such as:
- Providing a source of energy.
- Storing excess energy (in adipose tissue)
- Maintaining proper brain and nerve function.
- Keeping hair, skin and other tissues healthy.
- Transporting fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- The production of steroid hormones in the body.
- Producing good cholesterol (HDL) and removing bad cholesterol (LDL).
Fats are organic molecules composed of hydrogen and carbon joined by in a chain called a hydrocarbon. These molecules can be configured in several ways and their structure determines the type of fat and whether they are healthy or not.
There are four major fat types:
- Saturated – Animal fats, butter, tropical oils (coconut, palm and cacao). These tend to be solid at room temperature.
- Mono-unsaturated – Olive oil, avocado, tree nuts, peanuts and groundnuts. These are usually liquid at room temperature.
- Poly-unsaturated – Including Omega 3 (Fish oil, flax) and Omega 6 (most seed oils such as canola oil, safflower and sunflower).
Trans – Most commonly found is the man-made variety produced from vegetable oils to increase shelf life (margarine, copha) and have been consistently associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease. However, healthy trans fats appear naturally in meat and dairy products (CLA, vaccenic acid).
Because of the presence of fat in adipose tissue many fear that eating fat will in turn make us fat. This is not necessarily true, as fat is stored when an excess of calories are consumed regardless of where they come from.
Because fat is so nutrient dense (nine calories per gram vs protein and carb at four calories per gram) it can be easily over consumed, especially when combined in foods high in salt like chips, or sugar like chocolate.
To maintain optimal health, ensure that you are eating an adequate amount of fat daily (around 30% of your caloric intake) from a variety of natural sources and limit consumption of trans fats.
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