Fat in Food

Before we start this conversation, we need to get something out of the way.

Dietary fat has a bad reputation. You may have heard some unflattering rumors, so let’s clear the air:

  • Eating fat does not make you fat
  • The fat on your body is different than the fat in food

In fact, the fat in food is a macronutrient. That means your body needs a diet with enough fat to function. Fat does a lot of cool things for us. It supports our heart, brain and allows us use other nutrients in food. However, the type of fat you eat is very important. Let’s talk about three different types of fat, the foods they are found in and some FAQs about FATs!

Unsaturated fat (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated) —- These are your healthy fats. Found in plant foods and fish.

Saturated fat —- This is the fat in dairy and meat. Because it is difficult for our body to use, this fat should be limited in our diets.

Trans fat (Hydrogenated fat) —- This human-made substance gave all fats a bad name. It has been prohibited in the United States and other places around the world but it is still important for us to recognize. It can be found in processed foods.

Foods can have more than one type of fat in them. But if we were to categorize differents foods into groups it might look something like this…

Unsaturated fatSaturated fatTrans fat
Avocado
Nuts
Seeds
Olive oil
Fish
Canola oil
Sesame oil
Butter
Pork
Lamb
Beef
Cheese
Coconut oil
Whole milk
Hydrogenated oil
Some processed food
Some fried foods
Some margarines

The FAQs on fats

  • What do I use to cook with?
    • Olive oil for low heat or no heat. It is okay for cooking on the stovetop, and making salad dressings, soups or sauces. It’s got a low smoke point so try to keep it under 350 degrees.
    • Vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, safflower, peanut oil) can get a bit hotter, about up to 400 degrees. This is okay for baking and roasting vegetables.
    • Butter – don’t be afraid! You can use butter for baked goods or other foods that would taste better cooked in butter. It can stand up to higher heat.
  • But WHY is unsaturated fat better for me?
    • Oh you want the biochemistry behind the nutrition? Alright, since you asked… dietary fat provides the fatty acid for cell membranes. The double bond arrangement of the fatty acid chains in an unsaturated fat molecule provide fluidity. That flexibility is important for transporting stuff through the cell membrane, cell signaling and nervous system function.
  • What is the deal with cholesterol?
    • Another victim of defamation, cholesterol got a bad name. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs to make cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin d. We can get extra cholesterol in the food we eat. For the medical stats: HDL is considered healthier because it’s carrying excess cholesterol to the liver to be trashed. LDL is not so friendly – too much LDL hanging around can become plaques in the bloodstream that lead to clots, strokes and heart disease.
  • What is an Omega 3?
    • Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fats that rose to fame from their possible ability to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. These fats are found in salmon, tuna, herring and algae – all can be made into supplements. If you don’t regularly eat these foods, you can talk with your doctor about if supplementation is right for you.

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