The ABC Blocks of Nutrition- FATS Underestimated
Carbs, Protein and Fat.. We’ve heard these concepts before but what do they mean? What makes a carbohydrate a carbohydrate, a protein a protein and a fat a fat? Are all carbohydrates created equal? Are all fats bad for you? How does a vegetarian get their protein without meat?
But first, the FAT terminology
Before I go any further into this macronutrient you might want to take a crash course in lipid terminology in order to gain a better insight into what is coming your way.
- Lipid – Lipids refer to all fat & cholesterol substances, they do not dissolve in water but rather, they create an emulsion
- Fats – One of the three macronutrients in nutrition. Composed of a glycerol backbone and fatty acids (building blocks)
- Triglycerides – Most body fat is stored as triglycerides. Composed of a glycerol backbone and 3 fatty acids.
- Cholesterol – There are two different kinds of cholesterol, Serum Cholesterol & Dietary Cholesterol
- Serum Cholesterol – also known as blood cholesterol, some is absorbed from the foods we eat however, the body synthesizes most of this cholesterol. This is used for the synthesis of hormones, vitamins, body cells and cell building.
- Dietary Cholesterol – found in animal based food products such as meat, milk, cheese, & eggs.
- “Good” Cholesterol – also known as HDL (high density lipoprotein). HDL’s are synthesized by the liver and carry cholesterol FROM the body cells TO the liver to be broken down and eliminated.
- “Bad” Cholesterol – also known as LDL (low density lipoprotein). LDL’s are also synthesized by the liver but carry cholesterol FROM the liver TO the body cells and may cause arterial plaques and other underlying diseases.
- Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA)- composed of only single bonded hydrogen atoms, these fats contribute to the body’s synthesis of more LDL (“bad” cholesterol). These are typically found in fatty animal products such as fatty beef cuts, whole milk, butter, & palm oils.
- MonoUnsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)- Composed of only 1 double bonded hydrogen atom, these fats contribute to the body’s synthesis of more HDL (“good” cholesterol). These are typically found in nuts, canola and olive oils, & avocados.
- PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)- Composed of more than 1 double bonded hydrogen atom, these fats contribute to the body’s reduced synthesis of LDL and HDL cholesterol. These are typically found in corn, safflower, soybean, sesame, and sunflower oils.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Composed of PUFA’s these are also known as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These fats may contribute to reduce the chance of blood clotting & atherosclerosis (hardening of the artery walls). They also help with reducing the body’s total cholesterol and triglycerides. These are typically found in seafood (Tuna, Salmon and Mackerel), walnuts, flaxseeds (only ground, not whole) and soybeans.
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids – Composed of PUFA’s this is also known as Linoleic acid. We get many Omega-6 fatty acids from our diet that includes corn, soybean and safflower oil. This fatty acid is rarely a nutrient of concern but can help promote a healthy heart by lowering LDL cholesterol.
- Trans Fats – Trans refers to the fatty acid chemical makeup in which it has been modified through a process of “hydrogenation” to make these fats more saturated and semi-solid. These fats were created to be used as a form of preserver to cause foods to last longer without rancidity. Most trans fats are genetically synthetic and increase heart problems by increasing LDL cholesterol.
Too much fat, so little time!
Wheww! That was a long list of fats to cover and I know it can be overwhelming. I too, sometimes get confused about what foods have what type of fat. However, there is something important to remember.. the more naturally occurring a fat is, the better it is for you! The best fats are the Monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, walnuts, & avocados). Never be afraid of fat, because well, we can’t avoid it anyways! No matter how hard you try.
Instead, look for ways to include the healthy fats into your diet and lifestyle.
- Add olive oil (monounsaturated fat) VS vegetable oil (polyunsaturated fat).
- Add walnuts, almonds and pecans (monounsaturated fat) VS chips (can have polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fat).
- Add avocados (monounsaturated fat) to your sandwich VS bacon (saturated fat).
So WHY do we want FAT in our diet?
Fat is essential for our composition as human beings. It contributes to every cell in our body including our brain and nervous tissue. It contributes to activate and trigger hormones, helps to regulate our body functions such as muscle contractions, immune function, blood clotting and blood pressure. We need fat on our body to help protect our organs from damage, such is why we have our buttocks and palms on our hands. Without fat, we would not be able to absorb vitamins such as vitamins A,D,E & K. We wouldn’t be able to live without these vitamins in our bodies. Fat also supplies us with energy and when in excess, the body stores it away. When we accidentally “skip a meal” and need the extra energy boost, fat stores are here to save the day without tapping into your muscle stores. Last but not least, fat makes momma’s homemade southern dishes that much better, giving flavor and satiety to every mouthful.
The American Dietetic Association: Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 4th Edition, 2012.