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Fat

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In this Lesson you will Learn

  1. What is fat?
  2. What is the difference between different kinds of fat?
  3. What are omega-3 fatty acids? Omega-6?
  4. Should you eat fat? If so, which kinds?
 

The fat found in the food you eat is known as dietary fat. Dietary fats are triglycerides, compounds made up of three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. After fats are digested, they are either used for energy or stored as body fat.1 Fat in the diet is necessary for the absorption of some vitamins and is generally vital to proper body function.

Both plant- and animal-derived foods contain fat. The four main types of fat are saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and trans fat. These fats are composed of different fatty acids. Because of their different chemical structures, they have different effects on the body. Most dietary recommendations suggest limiting saturated fats (though these recommendations have been called into question) and eating unsaturated fats in moderation. 

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in meat, dairy, and coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are found in vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, fish, etc. For a typical 2,000 calorie diet, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating between 44 and 78 grams of fat per day.2 

olive oillardcanola oilhazelnut oilsesame oil

Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are two types of fatty acids that get a lot of attention. They are essential fatty acids, which means the body cannot produce them itself and must instead get them from food sources.3 Both are necessary for a healthy diet, but some research suggests that the Western diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids and too low in omega-3 fatty acids, and this unfavorable ratio might cause health problems.4 

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flax seed and fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, herring, and sardines. Omega-6 fatty acids are primarily found in vegetable oils, including corn, sunflower, and safflower oils, which are commonly used in processed foods.

Because fat has more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates ( 9 calories per gram vs. 4 per gram), some suggest that a diet high in fat might lead to weight gain.5 Nonetheless, it is not a good idea to follow a low-fat diet, because restricting fat consumption also restricts the consumption of fats that are good and even necessary for your health.6 

Though it is unclear whether it is necessary to avoid saturated fat in the diet, there is no question that you should avoid artificial trans fat. These are the trans fats made during food processing. Trans fans have been found to increase LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) while decreasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol).7 Read packaging to avoid synthetic trans fats, which are found in hydrogenated oils, margarine, and many snack foods.

Fatty Foods

Ingredientg of Fat per 100gg of Fat per 100 calories
walnut oil100.011.3
canola oil100.011.3
sesame oil100.011.3
grapeseed oil100.011.3
avocado oil100.011.3
pistachio oil100.011.7
palm oil100.011.3
vegetable oil100.011.6
olive oil100.011.3
safflower oil100.011.3
coconut oil100.011.6
corn oil100.011.3
lard100.011.1
peanut oil100.011.3
sunflower oil100.011.3
rice bran oil100.011.3
hazelnut oil100.011.3
mustard oil100.011.3
shortening100.011.3
goose fat99.811.1
turkey fat99.811.1
duck fat99.811.3
chicken fat99.811.1
bacon drippings99.511.1
clarified butter99.511.4
suet94.011.0
unsalted butter81.111.3
butter81.111.3
nondairy butter80.711.3
salt pork80.510.8
margarine80.511.2
cooking spray78.79.9
macadamia nuts75.810.6
guanciale75.010.5
mayonnaise74.911.0
pecans72.010.4
pine nuts68.410.2
walnuts65.210.0
brazil nuts65.09.6
vegan buttery spread64.611.1
unsweetened coconut64.59.8
clotted cream63.510.8
hazelnuts60.89.7
hazelnut flour60.19.4
black walnuts59.09.5
caesar salad dressing57.910.7
almond butter55.59.0
light butter55.111.0
tahini53.09.0
blanched almonds52.58.9
unsweetened chocolate52.310.4
sunflower seeds51.58.8
nuts51.58.7
ranch dressing51.410.6
peanut butter50.48.6
cocoa nibs50.38.7
vinaigrette50.111.2
coconut butter50.08.6
sesame seeds49.78.7
unsalted peanuts49.78.5
dry roasted peanuts49.78.5
peanuts49.68.7
ground almonds49.58.8
almonds49.48.6
pumpkin seeds49.18.8
roasted peanuts49.08.5
mixed seeds48.88.1
french-fried onions48.67.8
roasted cashews46.48.1
cinnamon sugar butter46.08.6
pistachios45.48.1
kraft asian toasted sesame dressing45.210.2
hemp seeds45.07.8
mascarpone cheese45.010.0
unsalted pistachios44.87.9
French dressing44.89.8
pepperoni44.08.9
cashews43.97.9
dark chocolate42.67.1
ground flaxseed42.27.9
poppy seeds41.67.9
honey mustard40.88.8
garlic mayonnaise40.08.6
bacon39.79.5
duck39.39.7
candied pecans39.37.3
semisweet chocolate chips38.36.6
chorizo38.38.4
puff pastry38.16.9
heavy cream37.010.7
lightly sweetened whipped cream37.010.7
pesto sauce37.09.6
light buttery spread36.410.8
potato chips36.46.7
ground nutmeg36.36.9
candied walnuts36.36.8
saucisses36.39.2
mustard seeds36.27.1
beef short ribs36.29.3
manchego cheese35.78.3
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Sources

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica - Fat
  2. Mayo Clinic - Dietary fats: Know which types to choose
  3. Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source - Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  4. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy - The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  5. Mayo Clinic - Healthy diet: Do you follow dietary guidelines?
  6. Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source - Fats and Cholesterol
  7. PLOS ONE - Effect of animal and industrial trans fatty acids on HDL and LDL cholesterol levels in humans--a quantitative review.
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Takeaways

  1. Fat is a nutrient used for energy that is necessary for vitamin absorption and proper body function.
  2. The four main types of fat are saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and trans fat. They have different chemical structures and behave differently in the body.
  3. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are necessary for human health but cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be included in the diet. Most people get enough omega-6 already, so it is best to focus on getting more omega-3s from flax seed, salmon, sardines, herring, etc.
  4. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating between 44 and 78 grams of fat per day. They also suggest limiting saturated fat (fat from animal sources) in favor of unsaturated fats (fat from salmon, nuts, olive oil, etc.) Synthetic trans fats should definitely be avoided.
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