Fat found in food has pretty much received a bad name even though it is an essential nutrient. Fat is part of each cell membrane, and in the skin it helps form a barrier against water penetration. Fat is eaten as triglycerides, which consist of a molecule of glycerol bound to three fatty acids. The two fatty acids which are essential to life are linoleic acid and linolenic acid. These and other fatty acids can be made into a range of compounds called eicosanids that control blood clotting, inflammation and immune function.
The constant message we hear is to eat less fat. The message should more accurately be "eat less saturated fat" but this is difficult to market. Unfortunately the "eat less fat" campaigns give the impression that all fat is bad, which simply is not true. There is "good" fat and “bad” fat and we should be eating less of the "bad" saturated fat because it causes atherosclerosis (fatty buildup in artery walls) and thrombosis (blood clots).
Of course, all types of fat, if eaten in excess, are easily converted to body fat. The problem is people, including many athletes, consume too much dietary fat. But, the more active people are, the less likely this is to happen.
Please don’t misunderstand the message here by thinking you should eat next to no fat, because some nutritious foods contain a pretty fair amount of "healthy" fat, such as nuts and avocado. These foods provide many nutrients and antioxidant chemicals that protect you from disease. It would be crazy to eliminate these from your diet.
What Types of Fat are there?
There are three main types of fat found in food: saturated, monosaturated and polyunsaturated. There is also another type of fat called trans fat, which occurs naturally, although too much trans fat in processed fatty foods as been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Fat is named after the dominant fat type.
Saturated fat is generally considered the "bad" fat because of its link to heart disease and some cancers. Saturated is an organic chemistry term meaning that each fatty acid is "saturated" with the maximum number of hydrogen atoms. It does NOT mean the food is saturated with fat. Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature and is often added to commercial cakes, biscuits, pastries and take-away foods. It is encouraging to know that some take-away franchises are working hard to lower their saturated fat content.
Monosaturated means that one double bond exists between the carbon atoms in the fat, which entails dropping two hydrogen atoms. As a result it becomes unsaturated with hydrogen. This is difficult to understand unless you have a good background in chemistry. This type of fat is viewed favorably in health terms and doesn’t appear to contribute to future disease. Olive oil, canola oil and the avocado have put monounsaturated fat in the nutrition spotlight and have created a range of monounsaturated margarines. Nuts, seeds and lean meat also provide some monounsaturated fat.
Means that two or more double bonds exist between carbon atoms in the fat, which entails dropping more hydrogen atoms; thus it is "unsaturated" with hydrogen. This type of fat appears to be unrelated to poor health. Except for polyunsaturated margarines and oils, polyunsaturated fat appears in lean meat, nuts and seeds. Oily fish and the fish oils extracted from them are also polyunsaturated and are commonly referred to as omega-3 fat or margarine oils. Many people worry that heating polyunsaturated fat converts it to saturated fat, but under normal domestic cooking conditions no unsaturated fat gets converted to saturated fat.
Trans Fatty Acids:
These are naturally occurring in beef, lamb, mutton, milk, cheese and yogurt. It is technically an unsaturated fat, but it acts like a saturated fat and could contribute to blocked arteries. Fortunately, the amount of trans fatty acids we get from these foods is not a health problem. Some people are concerned that margarine production resulted in margarines with high trans fatty acid levels, and although this is a problem in some countries, Australia and New Zealand have virtually eliminated Trans fatty acids from table margarine. Make note that hard margarines used in making pastries, cookies and biscuits (also called stick margarine or cooking margarine in supermarkets) are likely to contain trans fatty acids.
So How Much Fat Should We Eat?
We are often told that we should eat 20-30 grams of fat a day. Well good luck! The average man eats more than 100 grams of fat every day, and the average woman, 70 grams of fat. It would take a tremendous change and restriction in eating habits to make it down to 20 grams a day. A more realistic goal would be 40 – 60 grams of fat.
Another bit of advice we are given is to avoid and food or food products that has more than 10 percent fat by weight (10g per 100 grams). This means you eliminate avocado, olive oil, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, polyunsaturated margarine, and good chocolate, none of which adversely affect the health of your heart or other parts of your body.
Any food that includes oats, chocolate, avocado, nuts and seeds is going to have a higher fat content; for example, muesli will be 10 percent fat because of the oats and nuts; peanut butter will be 55 percent fat, mainly from the peanuts. Yet there is good evidence that all of these have nutritional qualities that actually improve your health.
When choosing food you have to consider more than just the fat content. The total fat content of a food is not the issue here; you need to consider the total fat intake for the entire day, the type of fat and what other nutrients are associated with the fat.
Is This Difficult?
Not if you use the Nutripoints Program for Optimal Nutrition. Using this program you don’t have to count calories, read labels or try to figure out if the label is lying. Everything is available in one number. See www.nutripoints.com for more details.
Then add Juice Plus+, the most scientifically documented whole food based nutritional concentrate in history, to bridge the gap between your current nutrition level and optimal nutrition.
Fat is found in oils (100 percent fat), butter and margarine (both about 80% fat); it occurs naturally in oats, whole-grain cereals, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, eggs, avocado, milk, yogurt and cheese. Fat may be added during the manufacture of foods like cakes, cookies, biscuits and snack foods; or it may be removed, such as in the production of nonfat milk or low-fat yogurt.
Author/speaker and an expert in ”Sports Performance Enhancement”. Jack Medina is available for speaking engagements, consultation and personal training of athletes in various sports, professional and amateur. Jack has written a new book, “The Winning Edge: Fueling & Training The Body For Peak Performance” with Dr. Roy Vartabedian, an internationally known New York Times Best Selling Author of the “Nutripoints” program for optimal nutrition. Both books are available online at www.jackmedina.com. Jack also has a monthly ezine (newsletter) available free which can be subscribed to on his website. All subscriber’s addresses will be confidential and not sold or given to any other organization or group.
This article contains copyrighted material. Copies of this article may be reprinted without permission of the author only when this bi-line is included with each copy. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org