Fat in Your Diet – It’s More Important Than You Think

hospital patient heart rate monitor

For years, people thought they needed to avoid fats, but in fact, the right fats are crucial to a healthy lifestyle. Read on to learn all about fat!

Did you know that fats provide more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates? With the right fat ratio, you can maintain blood vessel health and prevent lifestyle diseases. But what’s the difference between trans fats, saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and “healthy fat”? We’re glad you asked!

Fats – What Are They?

Fats, also called lipids or cellulite, are one of the three vital nutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates. They are a very heterogeneous group of substances, but they’re all insoluble in water.

In addition to fatty acids, fats also include fat-soluble substances such as cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. With an energy content of approx. 9.3 calories per gram, fats provide more than double the energy of carbohydrates and proteins. They also have the highest energy density, which makes them important energy suppliers. In contrast to carbohydrates and proteins, fats can be stored very compactly and without absorbing too much water as an energy source in fatty tissue.

What Are the Different Types of Fat?

While some dietary fats can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, other fats can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels or heart disease. When in doubt, processed foods, which usually contain saturated fats or trans fats,  tend to have higher levels of unhealthy dietary fat. Whole foods are full of healthy fats, including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Here’s a little breakdown of the different types of fat:

Saturated fats: These fats are usually solid, and in foods like red meat, butter, cheese, and coconut oil. Medical professionals are divided on saturated fats since some think it’s better to minimize, whereas others advocate for saturated fats in moderation.

Trans fats: You’ll find these a lot in processed foods, including those in foods like some frozen pizzas, crackers, or hydrogenated vegetable oil. Yes, even margarine, which was once touted as a “healthy” alternative to butter, can have trans fat! Avoid trans fats since they can raise your bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

Unsaturated fats: These healthy fats offer significant health benefits. You can find unsaturated fats in foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oils. Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil or canola oil, are liquid at room temperature but will harden when chilled. Polyunsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and fish, are always solid.

Fat Layer Protects Organs

Our body stores fats in the abdominal cavity and subcutaneous fat tissue in the form of depot fat. This fat thus insulates against cold and heat. Fat also protects important internal organs such as the eyeball or kidneys from harm.

Fats are also the building blocks of cell membranes, especially in the brain and nerve tissues. They are the source material for the production of various neurotransmitters in our bodies. Fats are carriers of the fat-soluble vitamins and help us absorb food in the small intestine.

In addition, fats are also carriers of so-called essential fatty acids. We can’t form these ourselves but have to ingest them with our food.

fat in your diet oil

Recommendations for Fat Consumption

Until recently, nutritionists recommended that approximately 30 percent of daily energy should come from fat consumption. Recent reports such as the PURE study suggest that higher fat consumption with a concurrent reduction of carbohydrates is beneficial to health and can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Critics of the low-fat diet have long pointed out that it has never been clearly proven that a high-fat diet leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. For human health, not only is the amount of fat is important, but also the quality of the fats consumed, which very much depends on the absorption of certain fatty acids.

Fat from Animal Meat: What to Look For

Even though fat sources from high quality grass-fed organic meats can have a lot of important vitamins and minerals, be wary of more conventionally grown meat. Animal feed has a significant influence on the fatty acid pattern in food.

For example, beef or milk from pasture-fed cattle (i.e., cattle fed almost exclusively from grass and hay) contains significantly more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. It also has fewer inflammation-promoting omega-6 fatty acids than beef and milk from conventionally raised cattle, in which the animals are mainly fed with processed feed.

Healthy Lifestyles Worldwide

A Balanced Fat Ratio Is Crucial for Health

A balanced diet of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids helps to prevent arteriosclerotic diseases, like strokes or aneurysms. The so-called one-third rule states that the supply of fat from each should be

  • approx. 1/3 saturated fat (e.g., in milk, butter, cream, cheese, coconut oil),
  • approx. 1/3 monounsaturated fat (e.g., in olive oil, avocado)
  • approx. 1/3 polyunsaturated fat (e.g., in fatty sea fish, canola oil, walnuts).

We should ideally consume fewer animal fats and increase the proportion of high-quality vegetable oils including olive oil and canola oil. Fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, or salmon, are also fantastic for health and wellness.

Optimum Omegas

To maintain optimal health, we need the right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Currently, the usual ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids is around 10:1, but the goal should be a ratio of 5:1. At the moment we are consuming too few omega-3 fatty acids from sources, and too many omega-6 fatty acids.

You can boost your Omega-3 intake from a multivitamin, or sources like hemp and flax seeds, and fatty fish. Even strawberries and broccoli have trace amounts of this essential fatty acid. Omega-6s are easier to come by since you probably consume many of them through canola, sunflower, soy, and palm oil.

feta tomato olive oil healthy fat

Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health

The inhabitants of the Mediterranean region are known for their good heart health. Despite, or perhaps because of their extensive use of good olive oil, obesity and cardiovascular diseases are less common there than in the USA or other western countries. Even if you live miles away from the Mediterranean, you can incorporate many of these principles into your diet by consuming more quality fats, fish, vegetables, and quality whole grains.

Fats and More

Fats are important, but they’re only one of three vital nutrients. Be sure to check out our other articles on proteins and carbohydrates, too!

Which is your preferred fat or oil in the kitchen? Do you make an effort to only buy organic or free-range meats and dairy products? Talk it over with friends and family on FamilyApp.

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