Fat is good.
Yes, I just said, fat is good.
In fact, fat is a critical component God chose to include in the design of His beautiful creation known as the human body. We need fat to survive and function at our best.
I don’t think any of us are oblivious to the fact that fat is a natural insulator, protecting us from extreme temperatures. It also provides incredible cushion for our internal organs to mitigate the effects of physical shock.
But, did you also know fat provides a host of other benefits to the physiology of our bodies?
Let’s take a look at some other roles fats play each day:
- Fat serves as the base for sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen) and adrenal hormones, such as cortisol.
- Fat makes up the cell membrane (protective layer on every cell) and enables our cells to communicate to one another. The phospholipid (fat) membrane also permits the entry and exit of the vitamins and minerals (from food and supplements) that our bodies need to function each day.
- Fat enables nerve impulses to transmit throughout the body, whether they are thought processes occurring in the brain and/or sensory responses from the spinal cord to various parts of our body. All of this is made possible by nerve coverings known as a myelin sheath.
- Fat can actually lower the risk of several diseases such as heat disease, stroke, and diabetes, by functioning as a “de-clogging agent” of the arterial walls.
In the science world, fats fall into a class of nutrients known as lipids.
Within this class, there are three types of lipids that are important to our health:
Triglycerides are the most abundant of all fats found in food and in the human body.
Phospholipids are the fat used to construct the cell membrane (outer protective layer) and is soluble in both water and fat; it is naturally found in eggs, liver, peanuts, and wheat germ.
Sterols are the fats that make up the sex hormones and bile salts (produced by the liver to digest the fat we consume). Cholesterol is perhaps the most well known sterol in the body, and the liver generates a whopping 800-1500 mg of it per day. Because our body already generates enough cholesterol on it’s own, anything over 300 mg of cholesterol in the diet per day is harmful to the body. And it’s saturated fats that are generally high in cholesterol, which gives us another reason to minimize all the animal products.
The Chemistry Behind Fat Metabolism
In order to understand the different fats and how they are metabolized in the body, we must understand the chemistry behind the fatty acids that compose a lipid. Fatty acids can be saturated (single bonds) or unsaturated (at least one double bond), and they can be short or long. All of them are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (same as carbohydrates).
But it’s the proportion of carbon and hydrogen (higher) in comparison to oxygen (lower) that provide fat’s high caloric density. Fat contains a heavy 9 calories per 1 gram serving; therefore it must be consumed wisely. And one pound of body fat is equivalent to 3500 calories.
Let’s take at specific examples of fat to better understand what we as consumers should include (or exclude) in our diet.
Saturated fat is a fat that is solid at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius), which includes animal fats and even some vegetable oils. Specific examples are lard, butter, cheese, hard margarine, animal fat, coca butter, palm kernel oil, palm oil, and coconut oil. These fats are not readily effected by oxidation (exposure to oxygen), so they don’t quickly spoil and go rancid. This is why butter can sit out on the counter for several days before going bad.
Saturated fats are linked to coronary heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes.
Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and is comprised of monounsaturated fats (with one double bond) and polyunsaturated fats (with two or more double bonds). These are primarily found in plant products. Specific examples of monounsaturated fats include olive oil (extra virgin), canola oil, and avocados, while examples of polyunsaturated fats are safflower oil, sesame oil, soy, sunflower oil, and nuts and seeds. Due to their vulnerability to oxidation, food manufacturers will add antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, and vitamin E to prevent spoilage and increase shelf-life.
Unsaturated fats are often referred to as heart-healthy fats. In fact, these fatty acids actually function like ‘Drano’ to de-clog the coronary arteries (along with exercise) that may be damaged by diets high in saturated fat.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (also unsaturated) are also linked to heart health, as they have been shown to prevent blood clots, protect against an irregular heart beat, decrease blood pressure, and support the immune system by defending the body against inflammatory disorders.
Adequate Intake for Omega-3
Men: 1.6 g/ day
Women: 1.1 g/day
Omega-3 sources are fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and herring), flax seed oil, soybean, canola oil, and walnut oil. The whole nut or seed of the referenced oils can also be consumed to provide ample supply of healthy fats.
Adequate Intake for Omega-6
Men: 19-50 yr – 17 g/ day and 51+ yr – 14 g/ day
Women: 19-50 yr – 12 g/day and 51+ yr – 11 g/ day
Omega-6 sources are found primarily in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and cottonseed. Poultry and eggs also contain these essential fatty acids.
How much fat do I need?
An adequate intake of fat is greatly beneficial to our health; in fact the Daily Recommended Intake for fat is listed at 20-35% of our total caloric intake. I’ve included a simple calculation to ensure we consume the appropriate amount of dietary fat.
Let’s suppose your total caloric intake is 1800 calories for the day, and you opt to aim for 30% dietary fat intake. Just multiply the caloric intake by the percentage of dietary fat intake to get the number of fat calories, and then divide by 9 cal/gram to get grams of fat per day.
1800 total calories X .30% from fat = 540 fat calories
540 calories/9 calories per gram of fat = 60 grams of fat
And keep in mind, these fats should primarily be derived from plant sources (all those mono and polyunsaturated fats), while saturated fat consumption should not exceed 5-10% of your daily diet.
Heart-Healthy Suggestions for Every Day Living
- Limit meat (skinless) intake to 6 ounces per day.
- Consume at least two servings of fish per week, such as trout, salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel (baked, grilled, or broiled, but not fried).
- Choose lean, unmarbled cuts of beef and pork with round or loin in their names (top round, tenderloin, sirloin, center loin).
- Use legumes in recipes often.
- Order pizzas with more vegetables, a little lean meat, and reduced amount of cheese (by half).
- Stir-fry meat and vegetables in a small amount of oil, while adding broth or wine for additional moisture.
- Use wine, lemons, orange juice, or broth instead of butter or margarine when cooking.
- Refrigerate soups and stews after cooking and remove the fat (that solidifies in the fridge) before reheating.
- Limit or omit consumption of sausage, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, whole milk, and regular cheeses from diet.
You may be tempted to indulge in convenience and down a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake. According to Understanding Nutrition, this fat-coated meal will cost you more than 1600 calories, 90 grams of fat and more than 30 grams of saturated fat, which more than exceeds the daily intake. It is NOT worth it.
I encourage you beloved, to take the time to plan your meals and choose the healthy fats that God has provided for us since the creation of the earth.
Fat is good, but we must choose wisely.
“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” Proverbs 14:8
“A wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1
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