Fats are one of three essential macronutrients for the body, needed for energy, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), hormonal function, tissue repair and internal organ protection.
Although they are highly beneficial for the body it is important to be mindful of the fact that fats are the most calorific macronutrient as they contain 9 calories per every gram.
Being this calorically dense, it is very easy to overdo it with them. Here is a quick demonstration:
Although all fats, no matter the source, have the same calorie density, their properties and effects differ based on their origin. Consuming fat-containing foods as opposed to pure fats provides additional nutrients:
Fat molecules are bound together by single or double chemical bonds.
Saturated fats only contain single bonds and have a straight structure. This allows them to be tightly packed together and therefore can be solid at room temperatures. They mostly come mostly from animal products, with the exception of coconut oil. In large quantities, are not ideal as they increase Low-Density Lipoprotein, also known as the ‘bad cholesterol’. However in moderation can be part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Unsaturated fats contain a mixture of both types of bonds which allows them to have a kinky structure and prevents the tight packing of chains. These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature and come from plant products such as nuts, seeds, and avocados. They are known as ‘the healthy fats’ for their artery and heart protective properties and therefore should be the dominant fat source in the diet.
There is a third type of fat – the hydrogenated oils, also known as trans-fats. These fats are very rarely found in nature. Trans-fats are produced as a byproduct of the industrial process of hydrogen addition to turn a liquid fat into a solid fat. They raise the LDL ‘bad cholesterol’ and lower the HDL good cholesterol. Be careful, as trans-fats are present in some types of margarine, shortening, and processed food.
In order to minimize your exposure to trans-fats, learn to read food labels carefully, avoid fried food and cook your own food as much as possible, in order to control the amount, as well as the origin of fats in your diet.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty acids are another class of fatty acids. They are precursors for the synthesis of hormones and signaling molecules. Omega-3 Fatty Acids are especially known to lower blood pressure by decreasing the levels of triglycerides in the blood. The body cannot synthesize them, so they have to be taken in from the diet.
Fatty fish flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are great sources of Omega-3’s.
Where does the majority of your fat come from? I challenge you to be more mindful of your fat choices this week. Check the food labels to educate yourself on how much or how little fat certain foods contain.
Here are some simple ideas for you:
- Cook with vegetable oil instead of butter or lard – but do not use margarine!
- Use warm olive oil on your bread instead of butter
- Replace some of your meat with fish
- Top your salads with olive oil or nuts and seeds instead of mayonnaise
- Swap snacks like crisps and chocolate for nuts, seeds or popcorn
- Instead of always frying eggs, fish or meat, try poaching or steaming them.