Here’s how fats affect your body!

Dietary fats explained

Fats are an important part of your diet but some types are healthier than others. Choosing healthy fats from vegetable sources more often than less healthy types of animal products can help lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other major health problems.

Fats are a type of nutrient that you get from your diet. It is essential to eat some fats, though it is also harmful to eat too many.

The fats you eat give your body energy that it needs to work properly. During exercise, your body uses calories from carbohydrates you have eaten. But after 20 minutes, exercise then depends on calories from fat to keep you going.

You also need fat to keep your skin and hair healthy. Fat also helps you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, the so-called fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also fills your fat cells and insulates your body to help keep you warm.

The fats your body gets from your food give your body essential fatty acids called linoleic and linolenic acid. They are called “essential” because your body cannot make them itself, or work without them. Your body needs them for brain development, controlling inflammation, and blood clotting.

Fat has 9 calories per gram, more than 2 times the number of calories in carbohydrates and protein, which each have 4 calories per gram.

All fats are made up of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Fats are called saturated or unsaturated depending on how much of each type of fatty acid they contain.

Types of Fat

Here’s important information to know about each kind of fat.

Saturated fat
The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, butter, cream, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or 2 percent milk. All of these foods also contain dietary cholesterol. Foods from plants that contain saturated fat include coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils) and cocoa butter. For people who need to lower their cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends reducing saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total daily calories.  Your body naturally produces all the LDL cholesterol you need. Eating foods containing saturated fat and trans fat causes your body to produce even more, raising your blood cholesterol level.

Saturated fats raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. High LDL cholesterol puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and other major health problems. You should avoid or limit foods that are high in saturated fats.

Unsaturated fat
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats.

Omega 3, 5 & 6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats while Omega 7 and 9 fatty acids are mono-unsaturated fats.  The name “Omega” indicates how far from the end of the molecule (i.e. the omega position is the last letter of the Greek alphabet) the first double bond occurs. While Omega-5s are polyunsaturated like Omega-3 and Omega-6, they are not considered essential, i.e. our bodies need them to function but can produce them without receiving them directly from food. Omega 5s from healthy sources are believed to have a positive effect on weight, cardiovascular health and blood sugar balance.  Polyunsaturated Non-essential Omega-7 Fatty Acids have been shown to have a positive effect on healthy weight loss and bowel regularity. Due to the antioxidant and anti-aging properties, Omega-7s also play a role in nourishing healthy cells, especially in the digestive tract. Polyunsaturated Non-essential Omega-9 Fatty Acids are linked to healthy cardiovascular systems, healthy cholesterol levels, improved immune function and healthy blood sugar levels.

They’re mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated and trans fats.

How Monounsaturated Fats Affect Your Health

Monounsaturated fats are good for your health in several ways:

  • They can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that can cause clogged, or blocked, arteries (blood vessels). Keeping your LDL level low reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Eaten in place of unhealthy fats, these fats may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar.
  • Monounsaturated fats help develop and maintain your cells. The fat is also high in vitamin E, necessary for healthy vision, a healthy immune system, and other benefits.

How Much you can eat

Your body needs some fats for energy and other functions. Monounsaturated fats are a healthy choice.

How much should you get every day? Here are recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • You should get no more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats. Make sure most of those fats are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. We need these fats to build brain cells and for other important functions. Omega-3s help keep your heart healthy and protected against stroke. They also help improve your heart health if you already have heart disease.

Omega-3s are good for your heart and blood vessels in several ways.

  • They reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
  • They reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias).
  • They slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
  • They help to slightly lower your blood pressure.

Your body does not make omega-3 fatty acids on its own. You need to get them from your diet. Certain fish are the best sources of omega-3s. You can also get them from plant foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids should make up 5% to 10% of your total calories.

Polyunsaturated fat is a type of dietary fat. It is one of the healthy fats, along with monounsaturated fat.

Polyunsaturated fat is found in plant and animal foods, such as salmon, vegetable oils, and some nuts and seeds. Eating moderate amounts of polyunsaturated (and monounsaturated) fat in place of saturated and trans fats can benefit your health.

Polyunsaturated fat is different than saturated fat and trans fat. These unhealthy fats can increase your risk for heart disease and other health problems.

How Polyunsaturated Fats Affect Your Health

Polyunsaturated Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are referred to as Essential Fatty Acids; i.e. fats that our bodies need them to function, but are not capable of producing. As a result, we need to obtain Omega-3 Fatty Acids directly from dietary sources.

It is best to obtain Omega 3 directly from the foods that are rich in them. Polyunsaturated fats can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that can cause clogged or blocked arteries (blood vessels). Having low LDL cholesterol reduces your risk for heart disease.

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are essential fatty acids that the body needs for brain function and cell growth. Our bodies DO NOT make essential fatty acids, so you can only get them from food.
Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help improve your blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated and trans fats.

Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are essential fatty acids that the body needs for brain function and cell growth. Our bodies DO NOT make essential fatty acids, so you can only get them from food.

Facts about trans fats

Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Another name for trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils.” Trans fats are found in many fried foods and baked goods such as pastries, pizza dough, pie crust, cookies and crackers. Trans fat is a type of dietary fat. Of all the fats, trans fat is the worst for your health. Too much trans fat in your diet increases your risk for heart disease and other health problems.

Trans fats are made when food makers turn liquid oils into solid fats, like shortening or margarine. Trans fats can be found in many fried, “fast”, packaged, or processed foods, including:

  • Anything fried and battered
  • Shortening and stick margarine
  • Cakes, cake mixes, pies, pie crust

Animal foods, such as red meats and dairy, have small amounts of trans fats. But most trans fats come from processed foods.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

“A growing body of evidence has linked consumption of trans fatty acids to cardiovascular disease. To promote public health, numerous state and local governments in the United States have banned the use of artificial trans fats in restaurant foods, and additional bans may follow. Although these policies may have a positive impact on human health, they open the door to excessive government control over food, which could restrict dietary choices, interfere with cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions, and exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities. These slippery slope concerns cannot be dismissed as far-fetched, because the social and political pressures are placed to induce additional food regulations. To protect human freedom and other values, policies that significantly restrict food choices, such as bans on types of food, should be adopted only when they are supported by substantial scientific evidence, and when policies that impose fewer restrictions on freedom, such as educational campaigns and product labeling, are likely to be ineffective.”

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Conclusion

When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts panel, and choose the food with the lower amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of these nutrients as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. However, these experts recognize that eliminating these three components entirely from your diet is not practical because they are unavoidable in ordinary diets.

 

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