While all fat contains the same amount of calories per gram, not all fats are created equal. It’s important to know which fats are good for you and should be eaten as part of a regular healthy diet and which ones should be avoided to help enjoy a good quality of life with a healthy body fat content. Coming in at a whopping 9 calories per gram, fat is a macro nutrient that provides the body with the greatest amount energy per gram. This is the highest of all the nutrients. Fat does have an important roll in the body. However, too much can be detrimental to one health. Let’s look at how fat can be helpful first since it is something that our bodies need then we will look at why fat gets such a bad rap and then you can decide for yourself how to properly incorporate fat into a healthy diet.
What are some of the good things that fat does for us? First, it helps protect organs such as the eyes. It provides insulation for temperature regulation, and for building healthy cells. Fat also helps to transport vitamins A, D, E, K, fat soluble vitamins that help with the maintanance and development of hair, skin, and bones. With this knowledge one can see that removing fat completely from the diet would be detrimental to ones health.Now let’s look at the fats that we need to eat in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
1. Monounsaturated Fats: The distinguishing chemical structure of a monounsaturated fat is that it has a double bond. This special structure helps to promote its most important health characteristic, absorbing cholesterol in the body. Foods that contain monounsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, and oils such as vegetable oils and olive oils.
2. Polyunsaturated Fats: The distinguishing characteristic of this type of fat is that it is typically found in liquid form at room temperature, polyunsaturated fats chemically have more than one double bond. The benefits of these fats are similar to the monounsaturated fats in that it helps to absorb cholesterol from the body and lowers ones risk for heart disease. You can find these fats in foods such as walnuts and sunflower seeds along with fish and vegetable oils.
3. Omega 3’s: As part of the polyunsaturated fat family omega 3’s can be found in mostly in fish. It can also be found in seeds and walnuts as well. Similar to the chemical structure of 2 or more double carbon bonds. Omega 3’s are essential fats that your body does not make so therefore they need to be consumed from our diet. Omega 3’s are not all created equal. The most important ones that our bodies need are the ones that come from fish. The omega’s in fish are DHA and EPA which aid in brain function and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Its a wonder why this nutrient gets so much flack since it does provide our bodies with so many good benefits. One of those reasons is because, as I stated in the beginning, it serves up a whopping 9 calories per gram. YIKES! Plus, the fats we are coming across everyday are saturated and trans-fats that are detrimental to our health and cause diseases such as heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Also you have to remember that all fats regardless of their health properties contain the same amount of calories so even though the unsaturated fats and the omega 3’s are very good for you they can still help you pack on the pounds if you eat too much.
*Saturated fats, what is their chemical make up? how is it that they are so bad for us? What foods have saturated fats and how do they affect the body? Then there’s transfats, what’s their deal, why are they so bad, and how does one come across a transfat?
Solid at room temperature, saturated fats and transfats are the worst fats one could consume. The chemical make up of a saturated fat is a long carbon chain with hydrogen atoms occupying every single carbon atom on the chain. Why is this so bad? Because this type of fat accumulates in arteries and clogs them up. Foods that are high in saturated fats include meat and egg products, high fat cheese and other dairy products, along with butter and some plant oils.
Transfats are even worse because these are fats that are created by humans. Not only that but they are used as a means to provide shelf life for foods. Transfats are created when hydrogen atoms are added to unsaturated fats and break their double bond to saturate all the carbon atoms in the chain. This then makes the fat that was once liquid at room temperature solid, which then destroys the capabilities of picking up cholesterol in the blood. Instead it acts more like a saturated fat and clogs the arteries and puts one at risk of many diseases.
Now lets top this off with the typical American diet. Over sized portions and high fat processed foods. Remember back to the beginning of this whole discussion, fat carries 9 calories per gram. That can create quite an ugly equation when you put this all together. So how do we take what we know and put it to good use to help us prevent diabetes, heart attack, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Let’s start with portion control. Knowing that fat is higher in calories than the other nutrients, we want to make sure that regardless of what or where we are eating we know how much we are eating. For example, if we are asked to meet at a local fast food place for lunch, instead of ordering a double bacon cheese burger and large fries, one could order, a small regular hamburger or cheese burger and a small order of fries. If you have to go out to lunch to a local bar and grill, it might be wise to skip the appetizers since most of them are fried. If the main entree comes with chips or fries ask to substitute it with a salad or fresh steamed vegetables, or even a baked potato (hold the sour cream and butter.)
On the home front, instead of packing a snack cake for a dessert for lunch bring a small piece of dark chocolate or a homemade cookie that has a shelf life of less than 3 days. Instead of regular chips pack the baked chips or cracker chips. At dinner bake or grill your meats rather than fry them. Use olive oil rather than butter to add flavor to your favorite dishes. Use lean cuts of meat and be sparing on the cheeses use herbs and spices to create flavors in your food.
At the grocery store READ YOUR LABLES! Just because it says no trans-fat doesn’t mean there are not traces of trans-fat. Look for words like partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient lists. Partially hydrogenated oils are what create trans-fats. When the body digests them it creates the trans-fats. On the food label make sure that your packaged items do not have more than 50% calories from fat. Look for food items that have low saturated fat. That is being generous as I have heard that this should be even lower.
However, its a good start. Small changes equal big successes so start easy!
Just remember that not all fat is bad, our bodies need it to function on a regular basis. Be smart about the fats you choose. We have been given the ability to make good healthy choices, take that ability with you to the store, the restaurant and on the home front and before you know it, the scale will be dropping, the cholesterol levels will be dropping and your risk of disease will start dropping, but more importantly your quality of life will sky rocket! Be smart and savvy and I know that you will find a healthy balance of fat in your everyday healthy diet.
Written By Julie S.