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”.
Saturated fats are found in meat, poultry, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils. These fats can increase both your total cholesterol and your “lousy cholesterol” levels. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we limit our intake of saturated fats to less than 10 percent of our total daily calories. Sources of saturated fats include:
- Meat fat
- Dairy products made from whole milk
- Chicken and turkey skins
- Palm and palm kernel oils
- Coconut oil
- Cocoa butter
There are two types of unsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats reduce total cholesterol levels while maintaining your “healthy cholesterol” levels. This type of fat is a major component of the Mediterranean diet, which has received a lot of press lately. The AHA recommends that 10 to 15 percent of our total daily calories come from monounsaturated fats. They can be found in the following vegetable oils: