In recent years, too much negative attention has been focused upon fats. The average American diet contains too many fats lacking in nutrients and dietary fiber complicated by excessive stress and lack of exercise. The outcome is a profoundly negative impact on health resulting in numerous health disorders. Nevertheless, correct types of fats are vital for good health.
Until the age of two, the body requires small amounts of fat for normal brain development. Fats are indispensable for they distribute the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Throughout life fats are important for providing energy and supporting growth.
Interestingly fats are the most concentrated source of energy for the body. Just one tablespoon of oil, which is liquid fat, contains 120 calories of pure fat and energy. Moreover fats are a more efficient energy source than either carbohydrates or protein.
Actually fats have the highest calorie density of all foods containing 9 calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and proteins 4 calories per gram. Fats produce around 4,000 calories of energy per pound compared to carbohydrates and proteins less than half creation of 1,800 calories per pound. Complicating this, our body also converts carbohydrates, and protein into fat for storage into our something like 35 billion fat cells to be drawn upon later for energy.
Consuming excessive amounts of fat can contribute to poor health. Accordingly the 40-50% fat consumed in the typical American diet is too much. Regrettably most diets contain too much of the wrong type of fats. To be able to understand the relationship between fat intake and health disorders, it is necessary to understand the different types of fats and how they act within the body
The foundations of fats are simple lipid triglycerides. All ingested fats are broken down into fatty acids, glycerin, and water. Fatty acids are classified according to the number of hydrogen atoms in the chemical structure of fatty acids molecules as either saturated or unsaturated. The three groups of fatty acids are:
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Mostly found in vegetable and nut oils, but not in red meats, monounsaturated fats are desirable. Research indicates these seem to reduce blood levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) without affecting “good cholesterol” the high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Sorry to say they only have a modest positive impact on undesirable LDL. Consequently, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines recommend between 10 to 15 percent of total caloric intake should be monounsaturated fat. Good sources include:
Peanut oil and
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Studies show polyunsaturated fats actually lower total blood cholesterol. Unfortunately large amounts of polyunsaturated fats also adversely reduce the levels of the “good cholesterol” high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Since all fats are high in calories, the NCEP guidelines recommend polyunsaturated fats should not exceed 10 percent of total caloric intake. Sources of polyunsaturated oil include:
Wheat germ oil
Another ingredient to be aware of so as to avoid them are trans fats. Confusingly most of these are made when polyunsaturated oils are corrupted through hydrogenation creating a new type of fat not found in nature. This process hardens liquid vegetable oils for longer shelf life. The resulting oil is usually labeled partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Additional examples include solid products such as margarine and shortening. The bottom line is trans fats are unhealthy and contribute to health problems such as heart diseases. In 1994, Harvard health experts found trans fats contribute to at least 30,000 premature deaths each year meaning 82 deaths per day.
Studies have found trans fats behave much like saturated fats and raise undesirable LDL cholesterol levels while they reduce desirable HDL. By 2005 the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans warned to ”keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.”
In fact Ban Trans Fat, a group started in 2003, has been successful in researching this problem to the point legislation has passed in California to remove the problem from their market as of 2010 and 2011. As a result this has had a trickle down effect with other states and companies beginning to review this harmful product and encouraging businesses to make an oil change. Ban Trans Fat has very interesting facts and figures about trans fat consumption of Americans. No doubt as the public becomes more aware of these changes we will eventually see a nationwide trend develop.
Saturated Fatty Acids
Whether manufactured in our livers or absorbed from food by our intestines, the fatty compound cholesterol or saturated fatty acids are necessary for production of blood plasma and cell membranes, vitamin D2, bile acids, and is a precursor of many steroid hormones such as estrogens or testosterone. Unfortunately saturated fatty acids can significantly raise blood cholesterol levels especially “undesirable” low-density lipoproteins (LDL). The NCEP recommends daily caloric intake of saturated fats should be kept well below 10 percent. People with severe high blood cholesterol problems are warned this level may even be too high.
Primarily found in animal products such as in dairy products, fatty meats, and processed meats such as hot dogs, or bologna these saturated fats are usually solid at room temperatures. To illustrate this the fat marbling in fatty meats is mostly cholesterol and saturated fat. Hence, food sources to minimize in a healthy diet include:
Most food products contain a combination of all three groups of fatty acids but usually one type predominates. This is why the food label will say “saturated” or “high in saturates”. Likewise products made of mostly polyunsaturated fatty acids are called “polyunsaturated” or “high in polyunsaturated fats”, while oil mostly made of monounsaturated fatty acids is called “monounsaturated”. To further illustrate all the above explanations let’s review the label of my own organic first cold pressing extra virgin olive oil. One tablespoon (15mL) contains:
Calories 120 grams
Total fat 14 grams or 21%
Saturated fat 2 grams or 9%
Trans fat 0 grams
Polyunsaturated fat 1.5 grams
Monounsaturated fat 10 grams
As research continues on and on, it is wise to have a goal of lower cholesterol particularly through less consumption of undesirable saturated and trans fats products. Better choices are products with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Protect Your Heart – Lower Your Blood Cholesterol recommends consumption of a heart-healthy diet to include:
lean cuts of meat, and
fruits and vegetables.
Moreover, first cold pressing extra virgin or expeller-process oils are better to purchase instead of chemical extraction methods such as hydrogenation. In closing both the USDA and NHLB government agencies now warn your total calories from fats should be between 20 to 35 percent of daily calories.
© Debby Bolen