Fat is an essential part of our diet. Without it, our bodies cannot function efficiently and we could develop serious medical conditions.
In a previous blog, I presented the relationship between the obesity epidemic and the consumption of fats and sugars (Click Here). Researchers have found that is the high amount of refined sugars and unhealthy fats in our diet that are responsible for the increase in overweight, obesity and associated medical conditions. That does not mean that we can indulge in eating high fat food. Any excess of calories we consume will be stored as fat, therefore making us heavier.
Healthy fats should be taken by anyone regardless of their health status. Most food has a combination of different types of fats. Always choose food that contains a higher ratio of good fats.
Let us start by defining what fat is.
Fats are a group of macronutrients known as “lipids”. Fat can be obtained from our diet or our body can produce it in the liver. Fats are stored in our body as fatty acids, which are molecules produced by the breakdown of the fat during the digestion process and then absorbed into the blood. Fat has many important functions in the body:
• Stores energy
• Helps in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K
• Promotes healthy nerve activity
• Precursors of essential substances in the body (e.g. hormones and prostaglandins)
• Maintains immune system
• Helps with the growth of hair, nails and skin
• Important component of cells membranes and cell development
If blood sugar (glucose) is not available for energy, the body uses stored fatty acids to provide the energy that we need.
Some omega- 3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential fats. A nutrient is called “essential” when the body cannot manufacture it and it can only be obtained from our food. Some amino-acids and fatty acids, vitamins and minerals are classified as essential. Our bodies require these nutrients to be able to function and operate effectively.
Here are a few types of fatty acids, based on their chemical structure:
1. Saturated fats or “bad fats” are the type of fats that mostly come from animal sources. It is usually solid at room temperature (butter and margarine). Fish and poultry have less saturated fat than red meat. Saturated fat can also be found in coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter. However, the health benefits of coconut oil are still controversial.
2. Trans fats: this type of fat has been changed by a chemical process called hydrogenation. Trans fats are solid at room temperature and used in a variety of commercially processed food products such as margarine, lard and shortening. Researchers have found that this type of fat is very dangerous and its consumption should be limited.
3. Unsaturated fats or “good fats” are liquid at room temperature (oil). It is mostly in oils from plants. Eating this type of fat may increase total cholesterol, both bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL).
Unsaturated fats come in two varieties:
• Monounsaturated fats: “mono” means one unsaturated chemical bond. It is found in avocado, nuts, and vegetable oils such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. Omega-9 is a type of monounsaturated fat that the body can produce, but they are beneficial when obtained from the food.
• Polyunsaturated fats: “Poly” means many unsaturated chemical bonds. It is found in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. There a two types of essential fatty acids: linolenic and linoleic acids. These types of fats are used to build specialized fats called omega- 3 and omega- 6 fatty acids. Research studies have shown that supplementation with these fatty acids can prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and brain deterioration leading to stroke or Alzheimer’s dementia.
Plant source: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only omega-3 found in plants. There is a small amount of omega-3 in walnuts, flaxseed, leafy greens, canola oil and soybean oil compare to animal products.
Animal source: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found on oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters and trout. These types of foods contain higher levels of omega- 3 compared to plant sources.
B. Omega 6:
This type of fats is more abundant is our diet. It is found in nuts and seeds, corn, olive and sunflower oil, shellfish and krill. Most people have higher amounts of omega- 6. The ratio of omega- 3 to omega-6 fatty acids should be 1:1 or 2:1.
A healthy diet should include 8 ounces or more of these types of fish a week or 2 grams daily of good quality fish oil supplements. Click on the link to learn the recommended daily intake fats from the Center of Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/unsaturatedfat.html
Always review the nutrition label in the package to learn the amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fats. Food labels are not required to list monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
At The Aesthetic and Wellness Center, we offer an analysis of body composition. This test helps us determine the amount or excess of fat mass and recommend a healthier and leaner body. Call us today set up an appointment.
Inda Mowett, MD