Article courtesy of Donna Hargrove, D.O., Nutrition Editor
Fat supplies essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are essential because your body is incapable of producing EFAs, known as linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, so it must be derived from food. In addition, fat carries vitamins A, D, E, and K, known as fat-soluble vitamins, into and around the body, making them necessary for healthy skin, eyesight, and brain development, to name a few.
For the good it does, it is often singled out as the culprit for weight problems. At 9 calories per gram, any type of fat, good or bad, packs more than twice the calories of carbohydrates and protein. However, dietary fat does not equal body fat. Weight gain comes from excessive calories, regardless of the source.
What’s Bad About Fat?
Diets rich in saturated fat and trans fat (both bad) raise blood cholesterol concentrations, contributing to clogged arteries that block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart and brain. But very low fat diets, 15% or less of daily calories may not reduce artery-clogging compounds in the bloodstream in everyone. Nor can most people maintain a very low-fat diet in the long run. Very low fat diets cause people to stay hungry and most often they will over eat. The American Heart Association recommends 25% -35% of our calories from fat daily. When it comes to dietary fat, quantity and quality matter.
Unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (good fats), should be the dominate type of fat in a balanced diet. Monounsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your health, when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated or trans fats. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. It has also been shown to offer protection against certain cancers, like breast and colon. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Monounsaturated fats are also typically high in Vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of. It is the primary fat in the following:
Olive, canola, peanut and sesame oils
Nuts, like almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts and peanut butter (brands containing no partially hydrogenated oils [trans fats] – read the labels to know)
Omega-3 Fats are part of the unsaturated family and are linked to lower levels of blood triglycerides, reduced risk of artery clogging, and brain development. Seafood, particularly fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, sardines and tuna are best sources, but it can also be found in certain plants and nuts, like walnuts, flax and purslane.
Saturated fat is the worse kind of dietary cholesterol when it comes to raising blood cholesterol levels and increasing your risk of heart attacks and stroke. It is concentrated in fatty meats, full-fat diary, such as ice cream and whole milk, and widely used in packaged foods like milk chocolate, cookies, crackers and snack chips. It is difficult to eliminate it completely, but should be less than 7% of daily fat calories. Only one saturated fat differs from all the rest, and is considered a healthy saturated fat because it is the only one that is a medium-chain fatty acid: coconut oil.
The Facts on Trans Fat: A Very Bad Fat
Trans fat is “created” as the end product of hydrogenation. This process converts oil into a firmer, tastier product with a longer shelf life. In addition to being directly linked to increased heart attacks and related deaths, it is also associated with cancers, like breast and colorectal. It is slowly being removed from food products but can still be found in stick margarine, shortening, fast food, cookies, crackers, granola bars, peanut butter and microwave popcorn. It is important to read labels, but the it may state that the trans fat content is zero, but by law a serving may contain up to a half gram. Four cookies could put you over the maximum daily amount.
3 Ways to Avoid Bad Fats
1) Avoid packaged and processed foods. Instead, choose whole foods (contain only one ingredient), or foods made at home.
3) Use healthy oils such as olive, coconut, canola (organic) or sunflower for cooking and flavoring foods.