To Your Health
September, 2008 (Vol. 02, Issue 09)
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Healthy Fats

By Kelly Kwiatkowski

A Simple Guide to Fats

Fats, like protein and carbohydrates, are macronutrients used by the body for energy. They support cell growth, protect our organs, produce hormones and aid in absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as beta-carotene.

Fats are either natural or manmade. Manmade trans fats are produced using high temperatures and hydrogenation. Theses fats are solid or semi-solid oils. Many processed foods contain trans fats. Look for partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil in the list of ingredients. Margarine, shortening and fried foods contain trans fats. Trans fats can raise total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends you limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of your total calories per day (less than 1 gram per 1,000 calories).

The two natural groups of fats (from plant- and animal-based foods) are saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal and dairy products. These are semi-solid at room temperature. For the most part, these fats are considered unhealthy because they can contribute to heart disease; however, not all saturated fats are bad for you. In fact, the short- and medium-chained saturated fatty acids like butter and coconut oil are examples of saturated fats that pump up your metabolism. Moderation is key, because a high intake of saturated fats of any kind can contribute to heart disease.

Lady at the grocery store - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). These are healthy fats that remain liquid at room temperature. Some examples are canola, safflower, sesame, olive and fish oils. MUFAs and PUFAs help reduce cholesterol levels and can lower your risk of heart disease. PUFAs provide the essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-6 and omega-3. These are important nutrients involved in regulating inflammation, providing defense against injury and infection, and essential brain and eye development and function.

Essential Fatty Acids: Omega-6 and Omega-3

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Linoleic acid (LA) Parent of the omega-6 fatty acids, abundant in the food supply Found in many vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut and canola
Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) Derivative of linoleic acid, not high enough in the diet Found in borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil, evening primrose oil
Arachidonic acid (AA) Derivative of linoleic acid, abundant in food supply Found in high amounts in eggs, fish and meat

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) Parent of the omega-3 family, the body converts ALA into EPA and DHA Found in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, nuts, green leafy vegetables and wheat germ
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Derivatives of ALA Found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel