I have written blogs on two of the major food fuels:  protein and carbohydrates.  Fat is the third important food fuel.  Fats are food fuels that belong to a group of substances called lipids and may come in liquid or solid form.  Fat provide about 9 calories of energy per gram, more than twice the number provided by carbohydrates or protein.  On average, individuals store between 30-50 times the energy in fat as they do in carbohydrates, which makes fat a very important fuel source.

 

While we tend to think of fat as “bad,” fat is absolutely necessary for good health.  Aside from its energy producing capability, fat cells help insulate the body and help the body absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.  Further, fat is important for maintaining healthy skin and hair and maintaining optimal cell membrane function.

Fat also provides the two essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from foods.  These essential fatty acids play important roles in controlling inflammation, in clotting blood, and in brain development, especially during the first 24 months of life.

 

The main distinction for fat in food is saturated fat versus unsaturated fat.  Saturated fats are the primary cause of high LDL or “bad cholesterol.”  Too much saturated fat increases the likelihood of heart disease, cancer and obesity.  Saturated fats are found in animal products such as fatty meats, butter, cheese, whole milk and ice cream and some vegetable oils such as coconut and palm.

 

Unsaturated fats don’t have the negative effects on blood cholesterol when substituted for saturated fats.  Examples of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oil and polyunsaturated fats such as fish or corn oil.  Remember though, while unsaturated fats are better for you than are saturated fats, unsaturated fats still have a great many calories, so you must be mindful in limiting their consumption.

 

One final type of fats that you should be aware of are trans fatty acids.  A trans fat is classified as an unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid.  Trans fat comes from adding hydrogen to oil in order to harden it.  This process is called hydrogenation and results in hydrogenated fats or partially hydrogenated fats.  Trans fat can both raise your “bad” cholesterol and lower your “good” cholesterol. Consuming trans fat is linked to coronary heart disease, inflammation, increased triglycerides and cancer.  Health authorities all over the world recommend that you limit your trans fat intake to trace amounts.  Read labels carefully to reveal the partially hydrogenated process.  Trans fatty acids are found in fried foods, baked goods, processed foods and margarines and should definitely be avoided.

 

When it comes to fat, the best advice we can give anyone is to choose foods that are low in fat such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables or choose lean, protein-rich foods such as soy, fish, skinless chicken, lean meats and fat-free dairy products.  Another simple trick is to avoid commercial goods containing high amounts of simple carbohydrates as they often contain high fat content as well.

 

Further, when ingredients are listed on the labels please pay careful attention and choose products lower in fat content and avoid saturated fat, trans fatty acids or hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats as much as possible.

 

While it is not advisable to avoid all fats in your diets, ideally, if you are attempting to lose weight or increase your fitness your total calories from fat should be 20 percent or less.