By Kayleigh Caito
Fats can sometimes have bad reputation. “Eating fat causes us to get fat, right?” The answer is: not if you eat fats in moderation. Fats, believe it or not, are very important for the body! Fat is a long-term source of energy for the body, and it aids in absorbing certain fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K). The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine (IOM), recommends 20-35 percent of daily calories should come from fat (2005). However, be aware that some fats are better than others…
Fats can be broken down into two classifications: saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. These are named based on how the fat molecules are formed (and involves lots of nasty chemistry to explain). Without going into all the chemistry involved, the take-home message is that saturated fats are bad and unsaturated fats are good.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for American, less than 10 percent of calories consumed per day should come from saturated fats (2015). Consuming large amounts of saturated fats can build up in the blood and block blood flow. This can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in many animal fats, such as butter, lard, cheese, whole milk, and fatty meats.
Trans fats are another bad fat. Again, a lot of chemistry is involved to explain this one, but essentially trans fats have a hydrogen molecule added to a liquid oil to make it solid. These fats are often used to keep foods shelf stable for a long time. Like saturated fats, these fats are poor for heart health. Trans fats can be found in Crisco, fried foods, and some baked goods. By staying away from these foods, you can significantly reduce your trans fat intake and keep your heart healthy.
Unsaturated fats are sometimes referred to as the “heart healthy fats.” This is because these fats can act to reduce some of the effects of the saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats should be eaten more often than the saturated fats but still in moderation (remember that 20-35 percent of total calories?). Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and come from plant sources. Some unsaturated fats include oils (such as olive and canola), nuts, and avocados. Fun fact: Have you ever noticed that coconut oil is solid at room temperature? That’s because it’s a saturated fat, even though it is a plant fat. It should be treated like other saturated fats, and eaten only on occasion.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also important in the diet because they help with growth, repair, and inflammation reduction in the body. Reducing inflammation over the long term can help prevent chronic diseases. The body can produce all the fatty acids that are needed, except omega-3 and omega-6. These are termed “essential fatty acids” since they are not produced by the body and must be consumed in the diet. People who consume the typical Westernized diet tend to consume much higher amounts of omega-6 without knowing. Some foods high in omega-6 include oils, nuts, and seeds. It is important to try to eat relatively equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. To do this, omega-6 consumption should be slightly reduced, but more importantly, omega-3 consumption should be increased! Some omega-3 containing foods include fatty fish (such as salmon), flaxseed, and certain nuts. Fish oil pills can be used as a supplementation for omega-3 that we can’t get from our diet.
The takeaway is that unsaturated fats are good in moderation, and saturated and trans fats can have poor effects on the body. It is important to be aware of this in order to prevent chronic disease and to be able to live overall healthier lives!
Also, time has not run out to post your comments and questions about fad diets. Stay tuned for the Fad Diets Part 2 blog post to come in a few weeks!
Speaking of healthy fats, check out Kayleigh’s recipe for peanut butter mug cake Peanut Butter Mug Cake!
Manore, M. M. (2005). Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for
nutrition. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 4(4), 193-198.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of
Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.
December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
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