Understanding Dietary Fats
Basic understanding of how fats affect our bodies
Do you truly understand the role and purpose of fat? There is a current trend for weight loss that has people turning to whatever diet gets them results the quickest. This trend has lead the way to all sorts of diets being created with claims of a healthy lifestyle in mind. Unfortunately, many of these claims are unrealistic and some of these diets may even be dangerous for individuals with specific health conditions. In this current weight loss craze we are being bombarded with conflicting information; one diet allows you all the fat you want to consume while others say to cut down on fat as much as you can. Understanding nutrition and what food components are will help you better understand what dietary choices are best for you. (LINK UNDERSTANDING NUTRITION)
Fat plays an important role when it comes to consuming a healthy and balanced diet. When we cook we know that fat is what keeps things from sticking, it’s what holds the key to allowing food to remain juicy and it’s what helps food be flavorful. But there are different kinds and properties of fat and their effects in our bodies vary tremendously depending on which type we ingest. Fat provide the body 9 calories per gram. It is the nutrient that has the most caloric density per gram and this makes sense, since the largest role of fat is to store energy. After fat is ingested, it is broken down into small chains of fatty acids that can be absorbed through intestinal cells to be taken up by muscle and fat cells throughout your body. (LINK ABOUT DIGESTIVE PROCESS) If you need energy right away — say you take a walk after dinner — they’ll be used to meet those demands. If you go right to bed, they’ll be stored in fat tissue until they’re needed.
To no surprise, a significant fat breakdown happens when your body is running on a caloric deficit. In a healthy adult, a deficits can occur either by eating less calories or by using the calories consumed (maybe through a workout). When a caloric deficit happens, your body starts to break down your own fat stores in order to provide the additional energy required. Believe it or not even the process of beta oxidation, or turning fat to energy, requires glucose, which can come from carbohydrates or protein (when intakes or carbs are too low), and is most efficient when you’re only slightly restricting calories.
When your body is receiving the adequate amount of nutrition and daily activity, and is running at its optimal level it burns fat during normal day-to-day activities. When engaging in low-intensity movements such as sitting and standing, walking and doing your daily routines, fat is the primary source of fuel. The body uses fat so it can spare glucose (the good stuff!) for your brain and red blood cells. When we eat a diet that is too high in simple carbohydrates glucose is consistently available and the body does not need to tap into fat storages because it has energy readily available.
Not all fats are created equal when it comes to health. Naturally occurring fats can be found in dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, fatty fruits and oils. And added fats can be found in processed foods and packaged goods. The most common fats in food are as follows:
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and is mostly found in animal sources like red meat and dairy. Certain plants, such as coconut and palm and their oils are high in saturated fat. Major health organizations, such as the USDA advise us to eat less saturated fat. Saturated fat has been linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Most trans fat is synthetically made by taking liquid unsaturated fat and blasting it with hydrogen. The result is a product that resembles solid saturated fat. Adding this fat to processed foods makes them more shelf stable and easier to cook with, however evidence has proven that trans fats are the worst things for your heart. Not only do trans fat increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, but they also decrease HDL (good) cholesterol so you should aim to cut them out of your diet all together!
Unsaturated fats are fats we think of when we hear about healthy fats. These fats do not carry the same risk for heart disease as saturated and trans fat, as they assist in the absorption of fat soluble micronutrients. Generally, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are found in high-fat plant-based foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and olives; as well as, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are polyunsaturated fats that cannot be produced by our bodies and therefore we must get them from the food we consume everyday. Both of these fats play important roles in regulating our immune system, developing and maintaining our vision and nervous systems. Adequate intake for omega-6 fats ranges from 12–17 grams per day and 1.1–1.6 grams per day for omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are easier to consume because they are are abundant in our food supply. Omega-3 fats are harder to come by since they’re mostly found in fatty fish; this is partly why we’re advised to eat more seafood by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.