Understanding Your Dietary Fats

Understanding Your Dietary Fats

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Dietary fats, whether you like them or not, are a crucial component of any balanced diet. Dietary fats, in thr right amounts, are necessary for the manufacture of some cell components, as well as a source of energy. Knowing the good fats and the bad fats, and therefore knowing which fats to increase or decrease the amount of, in your diet, is an important part of healthy eating.

Saturated Fats

These fats tend to be solid at room temperature and the majority are of animal origin. foods high in saturated fats include fat in meat, butter and cheese. Some foods originating from plants, like coconuts, do contain saturated fats.

Dietary saturated fats can raise the levels of the bad cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, which predisposes one to the risk of heart disease. This is the type of fat one needs to reduce the consumption of, which can be achieved by cutting off excess from meats. As a rough guide, one’s diet should contain no more than 5% of the total fat content of a meal. Achievig this target not only helps to lower the risks of heart disease, but also helps contol overweight and obesity.

Unsaturated Fats

These tend to be liquid at room temperature, and are generally deemed to be healthy fats. In spite of their billing as healthy fats care should be taken when they are used in cooking, as they can be damaged by heat producing harmful free radicals. There are different types of unsaturated fats. If stored stored for long periods of time they usually go rancid.

Trans Fats

Unsaturated fats include the trans fats, which are basically hardened unsaturated fats such as found in margarine. These fats are just as bad, if not worse, than the saturated fat. There is even suggestion that some saturated fats may also lower the levels of the good cholesterol, HDL cholesterol. They are not essential in one’s diet and should be avoided.

Polyunsaturated Fats

These are the type of dietary fats which one needs to increase the intake of. They are the “healthy” fats and help lower blood LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. But, because they can get damaged, especially by heat, to produce harmful free radicals, they have been implicated i raising the risk of cancer.

Polyunsaturated fats are a source of the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both these fats acids are essential for growth and maintenance of good health and disease prevention. They can help prevent strokes and heart disease. Good plant sources include nuts and seed oils, like sunflower and walnut oils. Fish, especially oily fish, are a good source of these essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. This type of fat should make about 10% of the total dietary fat intake.

Monounsaturated Fats

These unsaturated fats also tend to be liquid at room temperature, but may turn solid when cooled below room temperature. Unlike polyunsaturated fats, they are not as liable to heat damage and are, therefore, better suited for use in cooking.
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They are a type of good fats because the also lower the blood levels of LDL cholesterol whilst raising the levels of HDL cholesterol. These should, ideally, also account for 10% of the total dietary fat intake. Good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids include olive oil, avocados and nost nuts.

Finally, remember that boths saturated and unsaturated fats, whether healthy or unhealthy, are still fats, and contain a lot of calories – 9 calories per gram, to be exact. Too much of either can lead to weight gain, but the unsaturated ones have the added disadvantage of increasing the risks of heart disease. Therefore, for a healthy low-fat diet it is crucial to include and increase the amount of unsaturated fats, whilst reducing or avoiding trans fats and unsaturated fats.

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