Introduction to Dietary Fat

Fat is the most misunderstood food type, just like protein it is an essential macronutrient. Fat is used as a long term energy source, and it is the only form in which calories can be stored in the body for later use. Fat is the most calorie dense nutrient of all, one gram of fat contains 9 calories, which is different to protein and carbohydrate which contain 4 calories per gram. Fat is a key structural component for all cell membranes and is key for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are considered unhealthy and bad because they can raise blood cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal fat, lard, palm oil and other cheap sources, the tendency of saturated fat is to go straight into storage, and offers no other benefit other than energy storage.

Unsaturated fats

These are preferred fat sources and are comprised of two type

  • Monounsaturated fats
    known to lower bad cholesteroal (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL), they are present in red meat, milk, olive oil and high fat fruits such as avocados.
  • Polyunsaturated fats
    Much like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats help reduce bad cholesterol, and in addition to this have other positive benefits, polyunsaturated help reduce cortisol [stress hormone],  hinder fat storage and increase metabolism [promotes calorie burn], they are found in essential fatty acids like flaxseed oil, fish oil, cod liver oil sunflower oil and some nuts.

Trans fats

trans fats need to be avoided at all costs, they are manmade fats created using a chemical process called hydrogenation. The process is used to turn oils into fat to be used in fast food to prevent the liquid oil from turning rancid. Trans fats are solid in room temperature are usually found in baked goods and can sometimes be used in fast food restaurants for frying.

Trans fat can also be created by frying unsaturated fats, which changes it’s molecular shape, this makes trans fats unable to fit properly into cell membranes, because of the unnatural shape it can cause cell membranes to deform. This can increase the risk of cancer.

Essential Fatty Acids

The essential fatty acids are required for thousands of day to day bodily functions, they’re called essential fatty acids because your body is not able to produce them internally and need to be consumed in your diet. They are required for cell maintenance and production as well as hormone production. In addition to this they are not stored in your body like saturated fat.

There are two types of essential fatty acids (EFAs), Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and Linoleic acid (LA), they can be found in these following food items.

  • ALA is found in fish oil, cod liver oil and many cold water fish and is converted to omega-3 in the body
  • LA is found in Sesame oil, corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil and is converted to omega-6 in the body.
  • Flaxseed oil and UDO’s choice oil blend offer a combination of both of these EFAs

EFAs are not stored in the body like saturated fats, so you can consume as much of it as you like, it’s not established exactly what a person’s nutritional intake of EFAs should be, suffice to say studies suggest the more the better. For balance you can opt for flaxseed oil and Udo’s choice oil, however Linoic acid is more readily available in your diet than Alpha-Linolenic acid therefore you should put a little bit more emphasis on omega-3 sources.

The bias of Linoleic over Alpha-Linolenic, is down to two things, Alpha Linolenic goes rancid far more easily and is also more expensive, Linoleic is easy to produce as it comes from vegetable sources, Alpha-Linolenic tends to come from fish which is more expensive.

Why omega-3 is so crucial

Omega 3 is ususally derived from cold water fish like mackeral, salmon, tuna and sardines. It can also be found in cod liver oil. It is a fatty acid containg two oils knowns as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

The benefits of DHA and EPA are endless, just a few of the benefits are increases in metabolism, lower heart disease risk, increase testosterone, prevent muscle breakdown, reduce cortisol [stress hormone] help increase good cholesterol [HDL] and required for hormone production. They also keep the blood thin and reduce heart  attack risk.

What’s the best way to get omega-3 (EPA and DHA) from your diet?

You should aim to get 2:1 DHA to EPA in your diet, ideally your diet should contain a total of at least 500mg of DHA and EPA as a bare minimum.  It’s important to note that most products, including supplements will tend to have higher EPA as it tends to be cheaper.

This is especially the case with flaxseed oil, you should aim to get your omega 3 from fish oil capsules.

[table of fats due soon]

Note on EFAs

  • EFAs are unsuitable for frying or heating at high temperatures, they turn into harmful fats called trans fats where they lose all their benefits
  • Cod liver oil is not suitable for pregnant women, you should seek advice from your midwife or doctor before changing your diet.
  • EFA oils are difficult to store, and go off easily, you should keep them in a dark place and ideally refrigerated. You should not store them for long periods of time and consume them immediately.

2 comments to Introduction to Dietary Fat

  • Chris

    What do you mean fat is the only form that can be stored in the body? Excess carbohydrate will be turned into fat and stored as fat when glycogen stores are full. So fat and carbohydrate can be stored.

    • Karim (admin)

      Not quite, I think you just answered your own question. Carbohydrate doesn’t store in it’s own form. It TURNS into fat when storing.

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