Food Facts: Fats

When you think of fats, do the words “unhealthy”, “avoid”, and “disease”, pop into your mind? Fats have long been stereotyped as a villain in foods. As with most stereotypes, there is some truth but much falsehood to this belief.

Fats are absolutely essential to the growth and maintenance of structures within your body. They give you energy, aid in absorption of vitamins and minerals, protect your organs, and stimulate cell growth and repair. Your body requires that 20 to 35% of your daily caloric intake be from fats. Why are fats stereotyped as unhealthy if you cannot survive without them? It all has to do with what type of fat you consume.

There are four kinds of fats that are present in food, two which are healthy and two which are unhealthy. The healthy fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat; you should try to consume most of your fat intake from these. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are in foods like salmon, nuts, avocados, peanut butter, and vegetable oils. They help to provide your body with essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, while at the same time decreasing your LDL (bad cholesterol).

The unhealthy fats are responsible for giving fats their stereotype. These two kinds of fats are saturated and trans fat. They are solid at room temperature and are hidden in foods like margarine, vegetable shortening, and bakery goods. These fats can be disease causing, as they raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower your HDL (good cholesterol), which can lead to heart disease. Because of this, your goal should be to control your intake of saturated and trans fat.

As always, it is important to remember balance, variety, and moderation in your diet. Even though fats are needed by the body, they should not be a huge part of your diet. Fats are very calorie dense; therefore, to maintain your weight, it is important to not have excess. Strive to maintain a 20-35% unsaturated fat intake in your diet each day and you will keep yourself and your heart happy!

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American Heart Association

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Harvard School of Public Health



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