Health Plus
August 10, 2018

What Exactly is Fat?

Fat is one of three macronutrients that make up the foods we eat. It gives the body energy to support cell growth, keep us warm, and protect the organs. Fat also helps with nutrient absorption and hormone production. There are three categories of fat: saturated, trans, and unsaturated. Each type differs chemically and physically, but all fat has 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein. 

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. It is typically labeled as unhealthy, but many foods contain it, like pork, beef, dairy products, fried foods, and baked goods. Saturated fat has a negative impact on cholesterol levels, which has been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating less than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat.

Trans Fat

Trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Some fast food restaurants use trans fats to deep fry their foods. Trans fats can be found in foods such as donuts, cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines. Reading labels is completely necessary when looking for trans fats. Manufacturers can list 0 grams of trans fat on the label as long as the product contains fewer than 0.5 grams per serving. Check the ingredient list for "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" to determine if trace amounts of artificial trans fat may be present.  In 2015 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that trans fats are no longer considered safe for human consumption and should be avoided.

Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated fat can be broken down into two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are known to have a positive effect on your health. Both types are liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels which can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to aid the body in cell development and maintenance. Some examples of foods that contain monounsaturated fats are avocados, peanut butter, and many other nuts and seeds, along with olive, canola, and sesame oils. Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include tofu, salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseed, along with soybean, corn, and sunflower oils. Unsaturated fats should be consumed in moderation.

Your total fat intake should be no more than 35% of your daily calories, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Want to learn more about this topic? Here are some helpful resources.

Challenge

Reduce your saturated fat intake to 10% by limiting beef, pork, fried foods, and baked goods.

Recipes

Freezer-Friendly Chicken Noodle Soup

Guacamole Chip 'n Dip

Sources

  1. Campos, Marcelo. "Ketogenic Diet: Is the Ultimate Low-Carb Diet Good for You?" Harvard Health Blog, 6 July 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089.
  2. "Dietary Fats." American Heart Association, https://healthyforgood.heart.org/Eat-smart/Articles/Dietary-Fats.
  3. "The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations." The American Heart Association, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.W1YdOdVKiUl.
  4. "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions." Choose MyPlate, 7 Jan. 2016, www.choosemyplate.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-answers-your-questions.