Debunking the Mystery Behind Fat
Although it seems like everyone and their mother is trying to eat less fat, fat is actually an essential part of your diet. You may have been told that fat is bad for you and you need to eat non-fat versions of foods. Not so fast! There are many mixed messages about fat out there and this article will debunk the mystery behind it.
First, there are good fats and bad fats. Good fats, or unsaturated fats, have protective benefits to many organs, including your brain and your heart. They play a role in fighting disease. Good fats are liquid at room temperature and can include plant oils like olive, sunflower, canola, and safflower oil, and types of omega-3 fatty acids which come from some plants, nuts, and fatty fish are also considered healthy and a type of good fat. In general, bad fats include saturated (if excessively consumed) and trans fat, which stay solid at room temperature, and include lard, shortening and margarine. Some margins made without the hydrogenation process are okay to include in your diet. Tropical plants such as coconut and palm are also solid at room temperature. They can be part of a healthy diet, but are generally not recommended every day.
Good fats are great for your heart health as well as other critical body functions:
- Fat helps absorb and transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Vitamins come in two forms: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are transported with fat and require it in order to be absorbed into the body, while water-soluble vitamins need water to be absorbed. Without eating fat, we would not be able to absorb these important vitamins, which would then lead to serious health concerns.
- It provides insulation and protection. Fat is like the original North Face down jacket with high tech temperature regulations. It insulates our organs to help control our body temperature and protects them by giving some padding. Not only does it protect the large organs, but it also protects the small nerves as well. A fatty material, called the myelin sheath, wraps around our tiny nerve cells. These myelin sheaths help protect our nerves so that they can send signals to the rest of the body.
- It makes cholesterol and helps form hormones. You may have heard that cholesterol is bad for you, but that depends on the type—HDL (good) or LDL (bad)—and amounts of cholesterol. Our bodies need some cholesterol to make cell membranes and even to help us continue digesting fat. Our bodies also use fat to make hormones that help regulate the body.
- It gives energy for most life functions. Your body uses fat more than it does carbohydrates or protein for the simple functions in life. Fat is stored in the body for later, when you might need the energy. We all need some fat to keep us going!
While fat is good for you, you want to choose the right fats and limit them to 30-35% of your daily calories. For a person eating 2000 calories, that’s 66-77 grams of fat per day. So, eating a serving of cheesecake (30 grams of fat and 400 calories) or a few ounces of nuts (40 grams of fat and 450 calories) would not be the best choices.1 Leave the cheesecake for special occasions and split it with a friend, and stick to a 1 ounce serving of nuts. Every gram of fat equals nine calories (compared to 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates or protein), regardless of whether or not it is a good or bad fat. What we know for sure is excess calorie consumption can lead to weight gain which can then lead to a whole host of diseases and disorders.
Besides the health benefits mentioned above, fat also helps contribute a satisfaction in what you are eating by improving the texture and mouth-feel of the food. Another bonus: by including a sensible amount of fat with your meals, it keeps you fuller longer, can help control blood glucose by not over fueling on simple carbohydrates and keeps you satisfied between meals. Thus, to keep your body functioning and your stomach, heart, mouth, and brain happy, eating a little fat at every meal is okay. Mystery debunked!
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