Health Wise Information: Facts About Dietary Fat and Why They Are An Important Part of a Healthy, Balanced Diet

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November 9, 2012 by healthwisehome

After receiving so much feedback from last weekend’s Did You Know? post on low-fat and nonfat foods, I decided that a post on dietary fats and why they are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet was needed. I hope that this information helps answer some of the questions that you have and offers a little more reassurance as to why you should no longer be afraid to add healthy dietary fats into your diet.

In order for your body to function properly there are three major nutrients, or macronutrients, that are needed: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. All three macronutrients provide calories (energy) that are needed for growth, metabolism, and other important body functions and each individually fulfills other important roles in our health as well. The USDA currently recommends that between 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calorie intake should come from fat. There are 9 calories per gram of fat, so if you consume 2,000 calories per day, your total dietary fat intake should be between 44 to 78 grams of fat (or between 400 and 700 calories from fat).

Types of Fat

There are three types of dietary fats: unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats.

  • Unsaturated fats help lower cholesterol and are considered the healthiest type of fat. Oils, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados are high in unsaturated fat and are should be consumed on a regular basis for overall health. This is the type of fat that you want the majority of your dietary fat intake to come from.
  • Saturated fats come from meat and other animal products (including butter, milk, and cheese) and are believed to increase cholesterol levels.  This type of fat should be consumed in moderation (It is currently recommended that you consume less than 20 grams of saturated fat per day).
  • Trans fats are the least healthiest of the fats and should be avoided. This type of fat, also know as partially hydrogenated oil, is created through an industrial process and is typically found in margarine, store-bought baked goods, and fried foods.

Benefits of Fat

Dietary fat plays an important role in your daily health and overall well-being. While saturated fats should only be consumed in moderation and trans fats should be avoided on a daily basis, eating a balanced amount of unsaturated fats will:

  • Provide your body with the highest concentration of energy
  • Allow normal growth and development to take place
  • Allow your body to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, K, and carotenoids which are used for many daily functions including cell growth and repair. (Fat soluble vitamins cannot be absorbed into our body and used without the presence of fat).
  • Provide protection/cushioning for your organs
  • Help maintain and build healthy cell membranes
  • Promote healthy hormone production, brain development, and blood clotting
  • Aid in fat metabolism and fat breakdown
  • Provide taste, consistency, and stability to foods

Sources of Healthy Dietary Fat

As I mentioned earlier, there are many unprocessed whole foods that serve as a good source of healthy dietary fat. Some of my favorties include:

  • Almonds: Packed with monosaturated fats, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, phophorus, zinc, fiber, and phytochemicals, eating almonds may help lower bad cholesterol levels, increase good cholesterol levels, and provide protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • Walnuts: Walnuts contain the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants of any type of nut and may help protect against heart disease, arthritis, and inflammation.
  • Avocados: Avocados contain monosaturated fats, folate, vitamin E, and glutathione, an important antioxidant for preventing aging, cancer, and heart disease. Avocados have also been shown to help lower bad cholesterol levels and increase the absorption of certain carotenoids which can help lower the risk of heart disease and macular degeneration.
  • Salmon: Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fats as well as vitamins D, B12, B6, niacin, selenium, and magnesium.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil and olives contain polyphenols, which can help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, and can help reduce inflammation, which can lead to chronic illnesses.
  • Flaxseed: Flaxseed is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and lignan, a phytoestrogen which is believed to help fight some forms of breast cancer.
  • Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds have been shown to help lower high blood pressure and the risk of heart disease in women.
  • Eggs: Whole eggs contain more essential vitamins and minerals per calorie than virtually any other food. They are also a great source of choline, a substance your body requires to break down fat for energy and provide lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.

In summary, you should enjoy a wide range of healthy, unsaturated dietary fats from whole foods on a regular basis. Meat and other animal products, including milk, cheese, and butter, should be used in moderation and in their natural, organic form (see my post about low-fat and nonfat products, here). Processed, fried, and commercially baked food products that contain trans fats should be avoided on a daily basis and only consumed sparingly.

Sources: Huffington Post, WebMD, Take Part, Men’s Health

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Welcome to Health Wise Home! I'm Sarah, a wife and mother of three working towards building a Health Wise Home for our family. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist and it is my mission to EDUCATE, EMPOWER, AND INSPIRE others to help build a healthier future by sharing valuable information, healthy recipes, and practical advice. I hope that you will follow along!

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