Nutrition Basics: Fats

FATS

Fats (lipids) are one of the three macronutrients (protein and carbohydrate being the other two) that make up our food. Fat is the most calorically dense out of all macronutrients containing about 9 calories / gram of food in comparison to protein giving us 4 calories / gram and carbohydrates that also give us about 4 calories / gram.  Fat is insoluble in our blood and takes a different route before it is used as energy. Think of fat as being our reserve, our long-term source of energy, the one that sticks around longest. Fat is comprised of three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule = a triglyceride (tri- as in three and glyceride).

fatsTypes of Fat

1. SATURATED

Found mainly in animal and dairy products, such as whole milk, cheese, beef, veal, lamb, pork and ham. Also, you will find this type of fat in some oils, such as coconut, palm kernel and vegetable shortening. Saturated fat is used by the liver to make cholesterol, which is involved in the production of hormones such as testosterone. This is important – you need some fat in your diet to keep your body’s hormone production where it should be.

2. POLYUNSATURATED

Found in things like corn, soybeans, safflower and sunflower oils. Some fish oils are also high in polyunsaturated fats. This type of fat may help lower total cholesterol. Since this includes good cholesterol, intake of this type of fat should be limited.

3. MONOUNSATURATED

Found in vegetable and nut oils, such as olive, peanut and canola. They can help lower bad cholesterol without lowering good cholesterol. Most foods are a combination of all 3 fatty acid types, one is typically the dominant type which therefore dictates it’s classification.

TRANS FATS

These occur when polyunsaturated oils are altered through hydrogenation, a process used to harden liquid vegetable oils into solid foods like margarine and shortening. These should be kept to a minimum.

FUNCTIONS OF FAT

Fats are really important, they provides our body with a layer of protection insulating our organs and  keeping a normal body core temperature. Fats also help us digest fat-soluble vitamins and keep our brains, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin, and nails healthy. Fat provides the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly.

STORAGE OF FATS

If glucose is high or we have plenty of it to go around, it can supply more than enough for what our body needs to do. The muscles and liver convert excess glucose (sugars) into glycogen (storage/reserve). Yet if glycogen stores are low, triglycerides are used – glycogen is converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. In the case that we need energy, our bodies can actually convert fat back to sugar.

Food Choices For Fats Are

  • Flaxseed
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Salmon
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Coconut oil
  • Natural nut butters
Fats To Limit
  • Butter
  • Saturated fats
  • Processed vegetable oils

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