Hello! Many times when people hear the word fat, they automatically think it’s a bad thing. However, that’s not always the case because there are some healthy fats that can be good for you. Fat does play a role in contributing to good health and is an essential nutrient.
Our bodies are good at making and storing fat, but it can’t make some types of fat so those have to come from your diet. There are 3 types of fat which fall under a larger compound called lipids. Triglycerides are the largest category of lipids. Examples of these are fried foods, cream cheese, vegetable oil, and salad dressing.
Sterols are another lipid and the most notable one is probably cholesterol. Believe it or not, your body actually produces the majority of cholesterol that you have. The cholesterol from your diet only makes up a small amount of your total cholesterol.
Examples of this would be egg yolks, milk, and food from animal origins. The last type of lipid is phospholipids and some examples would be soybeans, liver, and peanuts.
What Are Lipids?
Lipids are a range of organic molecules that dissolve easily in solvents such as alcohol or acetone, but are less soluble in water. Triglycerides are actually fats and oils in foods. The fats are usually solid at room temperature and the oils liquid at room temperature.
Roughly 2% of lipids are phospholipids and they’re soluble in fat and water. Only a very small percentage of your lipids are sterols. Sterols are major components of cell membranes and aid in the function of sex hormones and adrenal hormones.
Triglycerides are major lipids in both your diet and body. Dietary and stored fat also supply about 60% of your body’s resting energy needs. High fat foods are higher in calories than high protein or high carb foods. One gram of fat contains 9 kilocalories, compared to only 4 kilocalories in a gram of carbohydrate or protein.
Your body stores excess dietary fat to hold you over during periods of caloric deficit. However, the problem many people have is they have more stored energy than is expended which leads to weight gain.
Protection and Insulation – Fat tissue makes up about 15%-30% of a person’s body weight. It serves an important function of protecting and shielding organs.
Also, a person can have too little body fat. If you don’t have enough body fat, cool temperatures can be intolerable even at room temperature because of fat’s insulation effect. Women can also stop menstruating and be infertile without enough body fat.
Sense of Taste – As an ingredient, fat contributes much to the flavor, odor, and texture of food. Fat has a rich and satisfying feeling in your mouth. It also makes baked goods tender and moist.
However, fat’s most appealing quality can also be a detriment to a healthy diet because of caloric amount and type of fat being used. Moderation is definitely the key to consuming and using fat to cook with.
Phospholipids are emulsifiers and are used in foods to keep oil and water mixed. They are also a major component of cell membranes which allow fatty and water soluble substances into the cell. Phospholipids aren’t essential in your diet because your body can produce them.
Cholesterol is probably the best known sterol. However, cholesterol is necessary and important in your body. It’s really only a problem when excess amounts build up in your blood. It’s also a major component in cell membranes, especially in nerve and brain cells. Most cholesterol resides in your body tissue and not in your blood as well.
Healthy Fats vs Less Healthy Fats
There are definitely some fats that are better for you than others. Fats are mixtures of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The foods higher in saturated fat are less healthy for you. Examples of this would include deep fried foods, fat along the sides of cooked meat, and pizza.
The unsaturated fats are healthier for you and have fatty acids with better properties. Examples of these would be grilled or baked fish, peanuts, and olives.
Having elevated levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) in your blood increases your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. That’s why LDL cholesterol has been nicknamed the “bad cholesterol”. Keeping your saturated fat intake to a moderate amount, and eating a proper amount of unsaturated fat will help you reduce your LDL cholesterol level.
High-density lipoproteins usually protect against atherosclerosis, causing it to have the nickname “good cholesterol”. Your liver and intestines produce HDL and it’s only about 20% cholesterol. This is much less than LDL which is about 50% cholesterol. Eating saturated fats in a moderate amount and proper levels of unsaturated fat will help improve your HDL cholesterol as well.
How Much Fat Should I Eat
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for fat is 20%-35% of calories for adults. It should be balanced with 45% to 65% of calories from carbohydrates and 10% to 35% of calories from protein. Research has shown that the average fat intake in the United States is about 33% of calories.
However, this number can look a little misleading. Although the number is within the recommended amount, about 25% of the population has a fat intake greater than 35%. Snacks contribute a large amount to this percent. The most popular snacks are cookies, candies, and potato chips which are normally high in fat.
Summary – Moderation, moderation, moderation is the key to a healthy diet. If your diet is always high in fat, many problems can occur. High-fat diets are usually high in calories and can cause weight gain and obesity. It’s ok to treat yourself to foods high in fat once in a while.
However, you also need to have a good mix of the other major nutrients carbohydrates and proteins. The last thing you should also do is not forget to exercise. The old adage diet and exercise still rings true to this day, and you really need to have a balanced combination of both to live a healthy lifestyle.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine has a very informative article on fats that you can read here. If you have any questions or comments please let me know as I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!