Fat Facts

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While at your annual check-up, your doctors tells you your blood work is not in the normal range. “You are at risk for heart disease, your LDL and cholesterol levels are too high and you are overweight,” he says.  Totally embarrassed, you tell yourself, “My new diet starts today!” and immediately rush to the grocery store determined to buy every low fat food to replace that devil of a pantry filled with cookies and chips. Then you find yourself in the grocery store aisle, staring at the jar of peanut butter in your hand, confused. Saturated fat? Unsaturated fat? Poly who? The purpose of this article is to provide the reader with knowledge on an essential nutrient that is often feared and shrouded.

Fats are molecules that belong in a group of compounds known as lipids. It is estimated that 98 percent of lipids and dietary fats are triglycerides, also the most common type of fat found in the body.  Fats serve as the primary energy source used in the body at rest and during light to moderate exercise. Fatty acids are necessary as they add padding to our organs, insulate the body, assist in the production and regulation of our hormones,  aid in the formation of nerve cells (myelin sheaths) and absorb and transport essential vitamins such as  A,D, E and K.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature because the chemical makeup of a saturated fatty acid is denser.  Saturated fat mostly comes from foods from animals such as butter, milk, egg yolks, pork and fatty beef contain saturated fat.  Foods from plants that contain saturated fats include coconuts and palm oil. Many foods high in saturated fat are also high in cholesterol, which increases our cholesterol level even more.

Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one kink in their chains and cannot pack together like a saturated fat. Mono unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats fall under the classification of unsaturated fats as well and are liquid at room temperature. Examples of these are flaxseed oil, olive oil, nuts, avocados and salmon.  Eating food high in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats has been said to decrease LDL levels and help with weight loss.

Trans fat is probably the unhealthiest fat you can consume, because it is chemically engineered. The word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients on a food label means that they have chemically altered an unsaturated fat to become an artificial saturated fat for the purpose of lasting longer on your shelf. Some of these foods include stick margarine, packaged foods and salad dressings. Many restaurants and fast food outlets use trans fats to deep fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers.  Consumption of saturated fats and hydrogenated oils are dangerous because they increase your LDL.

The American Heart Association’s lists an optimal LDL level as <129 mg/dL to be at low risk for heart disease. We need to know that the consumption of saturated fat and trans fat in excess can increase our low density lipoprotein level (LDL) level, which, in turn increases the process of plaque formation on the arterial walls, which can, in time cause a heart attack or stroke.

We all know that weight gain is caused by the overconsumption of total calories, but one way to decrease your calorie count is to decrease your calories coming from dietary fat. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) set by the institute has been set at 20 to 35 percent of total caloric intake for adults.  One third of fats should come from saturated fat, with the other 2/3 split evenly between monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat.  When reading a food’s “nutrition facts” label, you will see percentages to the right of each nutrient.  This can sometimes confuse people as caloric needs are different. Instead of calculating the percentages to your desired amounts of fats, my advice is to know how many total calories from fat you should be consuming a day.  Calorically, fats yield 9 calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram of both carbohydrates and proteins.  According to “my fats translator” on the American Heart Association’s Web site, a 5’4”, 35-year-old, 140 pound sedentary female requires only  520 calories from fat: 150 calories from saturated fat, 20 calories from trans fat and  351 calories coming from (39g x 9 calories) unsaturated fat, to maintain her weight. If one is trying to lose weight, or participating in high intensity exercise, the values will be different.

So the next time you find yourself lost in the world of trans fat and calorie count in an isle of a grocery store, research ahead of time and you will be able to make smart healthy choices that will benefit you in the end.