The amount of information on fats can quickly leave one feeling confused. Headlines regularly mention words like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, healthy fats, unhealthy fats, Omega 3’s, Omega 6’s and the list goes on. The purpose of this article is to simply state some basic, scientific facts that you can trust, and will hopefully encourage you to eat enough fat and to confidently consume the natural fat in meat, vegetables, milk, butter, avocadoes, nuts, olive oil and more.
The body needs fats to carry out metabolic functions. According to the Institute of Medicine, the “acceptable macronutrient distribution range for fat intake for an adult is 20-35% of total calorie intake per day”. Yet a vast majority of people shun fat intake like it was a new plague. Fats are the most concentrated source of energy in the diet yielding 9 calories per gram when oxidized in the body. Don’t be afraid of fats-the body won’t store them if you are not eating too many total calories.
Here are a few key roles fats perform in the body: Vitamins A, D, K, and E are fat-soluble, that is, fats act as carriers distributing those vitamins throughout the body. Vitamin D, of course, helps us to absorb calcium needed for strong bones and teeth. Fats are also important in the conversion of carotene to Vitamin A. At a cellular level, fats play key roles in the regulation and excretion of nutrients. Fats help hold our organs in place and insulate the body from outside temperature changes-preserving body heat when we need it.
One of the most important points to understand is that fats slow the stomach’s secretions of
hydrochloric acid which leaves us feeling fuller, longer. Fats initiate the release of the hormone CCK (cholecystokinin) which further contributes to satiety and fats add flavor to food leaving us feeling less deprived.
The chemical makeup of a fat determines whether it is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated (we need both). The body can synthesize most of the fats it needs from our diets. Two essential fatty acids, (linoleic and alpha-linolenic), however, must be consumed from food. These basic fats (found in plants) are used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is important to consume omega 3’s and omega 6’s in the proper ratio (between 1:1 and 4:1). The typical American diet is too heavy on the Omega 6’s and this prevents reaping benefits from the Omega 3’s. Use the nutritional food labels and enjoy eating a satisfying diet.