Do You Know Your Fats?

Fat is a necessary part of our diet, but it's important to know the type of fat that is natural and to avoid the fat that is unnatural.

Did you know that fat plays an important role in the body? Fats, also known as lipids, represent usable energy, especially during rest and light activity. It helps to insulate the body and provides cushion for vital organs. In order for your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, fat needs to be in your diet. In addition, fat provides flavor and texture to the food that we eat.

That all sounds great, but as we know, too much of a good thing leads to health problems. When you are selecting food, it’s important to know what to look for, especially if you are trying to cut out “bad” fat.

Here is a quick overview of fats (click links for more information from the Mayo Clinic and other sources):

Linolenic acid and alpha-linolenic acid: necessary for maintaining
blood pressure and the progress during a pregnancy.

Triglyceride: made up of a glycerol and three fatty acid chains attached to it. Animal fat is an example of a triglyceride.

Saturated fats: usually solid at room temperature and found in red meat, whole milk, cheese, hot dogs and lunch meat.

Monounsaturated fatty acids: usually are liquid at room temperature and our found in olive, canola, safflower and peanut oils.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids: also liquid at room temperature and
are generally found in corn, soybean and cottonseed oils.

Manufacturers of food have discovered the process of hydrogenation. When you take unsaturated vegetable oil and a mixture of saturated fatty acids, a more solid fat is created from a liquid form. Hydrogenation changes some of the unsaturated fatty acids into trans-fatty acids, also known as trans fat. Here is where things get tricky. It’s not entirely clear, but when hydrogen is added to oil, it increases your cholesterol more than other fats. It’s thought that trans fat makes food harder to digest and the body recognizes the trans fat as a saturated fat.

Hydrogenation is used to increase the shelf life of certain foods, to improve the taste and texture of pastries and pie crusts, and to reuse for deep frying. It’s also used to change liquid vegetable oils into margarine or shortening.

It’s not hard to believe that the leading source of trans fat in the American diet comes from deep-fried fast food like french fries and fried chicken, and snack food likes cakes, cookies, doughnuts and chips.

As previously mentioned, fat is a necessary part of our diet, but we can chose which type of fat to eat and buy. As you are reading the food labels, look for the term "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oil, another term for trans fat.


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