The Skinny on Dietary Fats

Learn more about which fats can harm and which can help you find a more balanced diet and reduce your cholesterol from nutrition expert Heather Reese.

Dietary fat is often portrayed as a villain – especially when you’re talking about weight control. We always hear that you should avoid fat. And the fact that most food manufacturers make fat-free or low-fat versions of your favorite foods only reinforces the notion that fat is bad. However, dietary fat plays an important role in the body. And eating the right kinds of fat, in the right amounts, is actually healthy.

Fats contribute to the flavor, texture, odor and palatability of foods. And it helps you stay full. Dietary fat also aids in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K. And while the body can manufacture most fats, we rely on fat from food to provide us with the essential fatty acids – linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. These fatty acids help maintain healthy skin, normal growth and immune function. They also aid in the prevention of many age-related chronic diseases like heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Other roles that fat plays in the body include:

  • Providing energy
  • Supporting and protecting internal organs
  • Aiding in temperature regulation
  • Lubricating body tissue

Fat is the most concentrated form of energy. It provides 9 calories per gram, more than double the amount of calories from carbohydrates and proteins. While stored fat is the body’s largest and most efficient energy source, dietary fat is difficult to metabolize making it the body’s least favorite source of fuel.

Dietary Fat and Cholesterol

Fat is the single largest dietary factor in your body’s cholesterol levels. I will explain how fat affects cholesterol levels in more detail below. But first let me explain the different types of cholesterol. There are two types: HDL and LDL. A high level of HDL decreases the risk of heart disease while a high level of LDL increases the risk of heart disease. To put it simply you want high levels of HDL and low levels of LDL. To distinguish between the two types of cholesterol I find it helpful to refer to HDL as “healthy cholesterol” and LDL as “lousy cholesterol”.

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