Healthy Habits: A Focus on Fat
Fat in the diet has long been thought of as “bad” or “unhealthy”. Fat-free and low-fat products are displayed next to their full-fat counterparts on grocery store shelves attempting to stand out as an inferior option for health. When one ingredient is taken out another must be added in its place to be accepted by consumers. In some cases, the alternative is not necessarily a healthier option. Fat plays an important role within the body.
Fat provides the body with energy, slows stomach emptying, nourishes skin and hair, protects organs by cushioning, insulates and provides the mechanism to move fat soluble vitamins. Knowing beneficial types of fat, and consuming those in appropriate proportions, can help you maintain a healthy body.
Fats come in two forms; saturated and unsaturated. Saturation refers to the number of hydrogen atoms on the fatty acid chain. In simpler terms, when the chain has all the hydrogens attached, it’s saturated. When there are missing hydrogens in the chain, these are points of unsaturation. These points of unsaturation can result in mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. The different points of saturation affect how fast the fat melts. More saturation means a more solid fat at room temperature (lard or shortening). Unsaturated fats are more liquid at room temperature (oils). When an unsaturated fat is altered to make it more solid at room temperature, the process of hydrogenation has occurred. When “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil is found on an ingredient label, any health benefit once associated with the unsaturated fat no longer exists. Trans-fats are formed in this way and they’re thought to be the worse type of fat you can consume.
Saturated fat has been associated with increased levels of LDL (aka bad) cholesterol. The human body can make all the fatty acids it needs from carbohydrates, fats and protein EXCEPT for two forms considered “essential”. These are linoleic and linolenic acid. These must be consumed through diet and are known as Omega-6 and Omega-3, respectively. While research continues on both, Omega-3 fatty acids show more positive health benefits than the Omega-6.
Good Sources of Omega-3 Fat:
Canola/Soybean Oil Ground Flaxseed Flaxseed Oil Wheat Germ
Cold-Water Fish Soy Foods Walnuts
Total daily fat intake should be less than 30 percent of total daily calories. Saturated fat in the diet should be reduced to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
Good Sources of Other Unsaturated Fat:
● Olive Oil Mayonnaise Nuts/Nut Butters Olives Pumpkin/Sunflower seeds
Avocados Plant based Oils
Fat performs various functions in foods and in the body. Choosing lean cuts of meat, trimming fat, substituting mono- and poly-unsaturated fats for saturated fat and consuming foods in whole forms with natural oils is the best way to create a healthy, balanced diet and may also reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
This week’s Healthy Habit: Check your food labels. Find alternatives for any product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.