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The Fats of Life

The Fats of Life  6/9/17Calories provide the energy we need to live.  Carbohydrates, protein, alcohol, and fats in the foods we eat and drink are the source of calories.  Carbohydrates and protein both provide 4 calories per gram.  Alcohol provides seven calories per gram.  Fat is the most concentrated source of energy, providing nine calories per gram.

All nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, and fat, as well as vitamins, minerals and water, are important and necessary for our health and well-being.  Our bodies need a certain amount of each one each day.  However, whatever we consume above and beyond what our body needs and can use is eventually stored in fat in our body and contributes to weight gain. 

Controlling our intake of fat is one of the keys to losing or maintaining weight, and preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes.

“Fat” is not a four-letter word.  However, not all fats are created equal.  Some fats are considered healthy, while others are considered unhealthy. 

Omega-3 fatty acids have been identified as being heart healthy.  They are found in foods such as salmon, herring, albacore tuna, rainbow trout, tofu and other soybean products, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat are also heart-friendly.  Avocado, nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts), seeds (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds), peanut butter, olive oil and olives, and vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed) are sources of the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

On the flip side, saturated fats and trans fats are not healthy choices for us.  Saturated fats are found mostly food that comes from animals (high fat cheeses and meats, whole fat milk, cream, butter, and ice cream) as well as palm oil and coconut oil.  Saturated fats tend to increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Trans fats, for the most part, are fats that were once liquid, but through food processing have been changed into solids.  The trans fats found in processed foods tend to be the biggest culprit.  Trans fats do damage by increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while at the same time decreasing the HDL (“healthy”) cholesterol.

Reading ingredient labels on processed foods is the best defense against trans fats.  “Hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils or shortening are the words on ingredient lists that will tip you off to the food being a source of trans fat.  Another clue can be found on the nutrition facts label where trans fat is listed.  However, that can be somewhat misleading, so reading the ingredients list is still recommended.

For more information about fats, nutrition, and health go to these NDSU Extension Service websites: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/know-your-fats, https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/features/fats-in-our-diets, and https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food

Source:  National Diabetes Prevention Program.

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/en/avocado-monounsaturated-fats-2133723/  downloaded 6/13/17              


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