Food Topics Health Trends

Hero of the Day: Are Fats Bad for You?

Continuing with my theme of covering the various parts of the diet I started last year (so far I have covered energy, also known as Calories, and my take on Carbohydrates). Today’s topic is on fats, also known as lipids. I will highlight what they are, where you can find them, and why people shun them.

In the most basic explanation, fats (or lipids) are an energy dense molecule. A gram of fat has 9 Calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has only 4. This is one reason why many people label fat as unhealthy, since it has more than double the calories of carbs and protein. Eating a lot of fat adds lots of Calories, which can be detrimental for people trying to lose weight.

However, fats are actually essential for your survival. They are one of the building blocks your body uses to make cells. Your body also uses fat to transport and store certain vitamins (specifically vitamins A, D, E and K). Fat is even used for communication in your body and has an impact on your metabolism. In fact, many hormones in the body that control factors like growth and development are based on cholesterol, which is a specific type of lipid. Hormones like testosterone and estrogen are among these.

There are a variety of sources of fats from the diet. Meats, pastries, plants all have fat. Your body definitely needs fat, based on all of the functions it has. Some specific kinds of fats are unable to be made by the body, which means you need to eat and digest them to get their function (an example you’ve probably heard of is omega-3, which is a specific type of fat). It is recommended that most diets have around 20-35% of the calories from fat, with an emphasis on unsaturated fats (which I will get into later) to ensure that your body can do all that you want it to do.

The big question remains, why is fat shunned by the dieting community if it’s so important? My opinion is that in addition to being calorically dense, and a lack of clear communication and education regarding what fat is, and the different kinds of fats.

Fats come in several different types: Saturated fats, unsaturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Each one of these have a different impact on health and function. Many professionals (or those who pretend to be) might have told you to limit fats. There’s a reason why. Fat has a big impact on your health.

To keep things brief, I’ll refer back to an older post of mine here. There’s essentially three kinds of fats (I know there’s more than that, but if I went into them I’d be here all day writing books for a single blog post): Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans fats. Saturated and trans fats are associated with things like poor heart health, while unsaturated fats are associated with better health.

Fats are a necessary part of the diet. Without them, your body lacks components that are building blocks and signals to other parts of the body. However, where some of the confusion comes from is the sources of fats. Diets high in saturated and trans fats are associated with poor health outcomes, especially with the heart and blood vessels. Fat is also high calorie, which is associated with weight gain if not monitored closely.

Perceptions of fat have changed over the years. With the rise in low-carbohydrate diets, such as the paleo and keto diets, perceptions have changed. Even within research, there’s some evidence to indicate that dietary cholesterol has less of an impact than once thought. However, my opinion is that people still need to be aware of how much fat they are consuming, especially with regards to trans fats.

To answer the big question, no, I do not think that dietary fat deserves the hate that it gets from many people. I think that when eaten from good sources, such as olive oil over butter, or plants over red meats, fats can have a beneficial impact on health (some diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, promote this. Read more about the Medi Diet here).

What do you think? Did my post sway your opinion on fats? Feel free to leave a comment.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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