We all know that too much fat can be unhealthy. Some fat is necessary for good health as it stores energy, creates heat in the body and provides the means to distribute vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Saturated fats usually come from animals, in meat or butter, and is usually solid at room temperature. However, cocoa butter, and coconut oil are also high in saturated fat. Unsaturated fats usually come from vegetable sources, although there is a small amount in meat, and remain liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats have a lower melting point. All fats contain nine calories per gram and, therefore, should be limited for weight control. In order to maintain a healthy diet we must be aware of the different kinds of fat. There are two kinds of unsaturated fat.
Most polyunsaturated fats come from vegetable sources and remain liquid at room temperature. Corn oil, sunflower and safflower oil are examples. They can lower low-density lipoprotein LDL cholesterol levels and therefore are preferred over saturated fats. However they also lower high-density lipoproteins (HDL) levels. One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acid, is found mostly in fatty coldwater seafood. Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and walnuts are also good sources. Omega 3 fatty acids are natural blood thinners and naturally prevent blood clots; however, your body cannot synthesize these. We must get these nutrients from our food. They help prevent hardening of the arteries, protect the body against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure.
Monounsaturated fats are actually good for you. They actually lower LDL cholesterol levels and maintain HDL levels, protecting you against heart disease and stroke. Olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and nuts are examples. They prevent the build-up of plaque or fatty deposits in the arteries. Even monounsaturated fat contains calories. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat no more than 1/3 of your calories from fat for good nutrition.
Unfortunately, very few commercial products contain either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat, as they spoil very quickly. Unsaturated fats are often treated with hydrogen gas to form partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or trans fat. Trans fats are cost effective for use in commercial food products as they stay fresh much longer than other fats. They are widely used in restaurants and ready-made products. Sadly they also cause plaque formation in the arteries. The medical community recommends avoiding trans fats or partially hydrogenated fat entirely.
Fat is a nutrient required for many functions in the body and has proven health benefits. Since we know the differences between the fats we must be aware of what we are eating on a regular basis. Read food labels and avoid all foods containing “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fat as an ingredient. Unsaturated fats, in good quantities, are healthy, providing needed nutrients to our bodies. Some saturated fats are necessary, but should be limited. Partially hydrogenated, or trans fats, although made from unsaturated fats, are not healthy in any amount.