The Macronutrients: Fat

The Macronutrients: Fat

Fat has been somewhat vilified in the past, blamed as the cause of our soaring obesity leHealthy fatsvels.

The reason for this is due to its relatively high calorie content per gram. In comparison to other macronutrients, fat contains approximately 9 calories per gram whereas 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate contains around 4 calories. However research is showing that fat is not the demon it was once made out to be and the focus has now shifted onto the relationship between sugar consumption and obesity.

 

Fat is an important component of our diet supplying the body with certain fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D. Some fats also contain essential fatty acids, which the body is unable to synthesise by itself. But as with everything, eating too much fat can be unhealthy.

There are different types of fat and some are better for us than others.

 

 Types Of Fat

 

Saturated Fatty Acids

These fats have a relatively high melting point and tend to be solid at room temperature. They are obtained from animal fats and their products and include harder fats like lard, butter, fatty meats, and are found in full fat dairy foods such as cheese and cream. Processed foods usually contain higher levels of saturated fats for example take away meals, pastries, biscuits etc. Fats from plant origin tend to be unsaturated with the exception of coconut oil and palm oil. It’s wise to cook with coconut oil as it has a much higher smoke point than olive oil and will not burn as readily.

 

Unsaturated fats

These are usually liquid at room temperature and there are two types: monounsaturated and Avocado polyunsaturated. Research has shown that monounsaturated fat helps lower the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body without a detrimental effect on ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. They are found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, almonds, brazil and peanuts. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. There are 2 main types, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Both are have cardio-protective effects but omega 3, also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help protect against depression, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The typical modern diet is heavily skewed towards omega 6 (from vegetable oil) at the expense of omega 3. Good sources of omega 3 are oily fish (such as salmon or mackerel), flaxseeds and walnuts.

 

Trans fatty acids

Trans fats are generally found in hydrogenated vegetable oil. As we already know, these oils are liquid at room temperature. The process of hydrogenation involves adding hydrogen to oils to make them more solid or spreadable, such as in margarine. This helps prolong the shelf life of food.  Consumption of high levels of trans fats have been associated with adverse effects on cholesterol status by elevating “bad” LDL and depressing “good” HDL cholesterol. This will be listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients list of a product. The Harvard School of Public Health found that for every 2% of calories consumed from trans fats daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.

 

In Short….

“Good” fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, they do not raise cholesterol and will help keep your heart healthy. “Bad” fats are trans fats. Saturated fat lies somewhere in the middle. There are studies that link saturated fat and heart disease but a recent meta-analysis concluded that the evidence is not strong enough to definitively say.

 

More Information

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Liam Leech, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

Liam Leech

BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, MSc. ANutr.

 

 

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