Understanding Fats

Understanding Fats
Fat is one of the macronutrients and is one of the 3 major sources of fuel for our body. It comes from a variety of sources but most people think of animal fat when this term is used however many plants are also a source of fat. The article will review how the body uses fat for energy.

Fat, also called adipose tissue, holds your internal organs in place, makes up a large percentage of your brain and helps to connect your skin to your frame. It is a vital component of the human structure and is only an issue when there is an excessive amount.

The fat you consume is broken down into fatty acids. You may have heard the term essential fatty acids (EFAs). These are simply fats that are essential for the body to maintain optimum health. Our bodies cannot manufacture these types of fat, so we must get them in our diets. The two EFAs are called omega-3 (alpha linolenic), which is found in oily fish, and omega-6 (cis linoleic), which is found in vegetable oils. Another fatty acid called arachidonic acid is semi-essential. The body can make it, provided it has an adequate supply of other nutrients.

EFAs are vital for the health of your heart and circulatory system, brain development and function, as well as many other bodily functions. EFAs are found in safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, pumpkin and linseed oils. Other good food sources include green vegetables, tofu, fish (for example, salmon, mackerel, rainbow trout and sardines) and fish oils. Although all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some EFAs, they must go through many changes as the body breaks them down and refine them into useful substances. We usually take in enough EFAs through the diet, but unfortunately, we also take in other foods that block the breakdown of the EFAs and prevent them from doing their valuable work. These foods include saturated fat, cholesterol, excessive amounts of alcohol and high levels of sugar.

If you're not getting enough EFAs, symptoms can include:

Eczema or dry skin

Hair loss

Liver or kidney degeneration

Excessive water loss

Susceptibility to infections

Failure to heal

Inflammatory conditions such as arthritis

Heart and circulatory problems

Deterioration of vision

Breakdown of nerve impulses within the muscles

Loss of motor skills (the ability to control muscular actions)

The only way to get rid of excess fat is to burn it. The fat cell is constantly active, with fat going in and coming out all the time. If you maintain a balance between what you consume and what you burn, you won't add to the fat storage. If the balance is tipped and you eat more than you burn, the fat cells will increase in size. The result is an increased amount of body fat which is considered obesity when excessive.

Fat is either saturated (solid at room temperature) or unsaturated (liquid at room temperature). Most saturated fats are of animal origin (exceptions include palm and coconut oils) and contain high levels of cholesterol, which is another fatty substance present in animal fat. Cholesterol can clog up arteries and restrict blood flow if consumed in excess.

There are two types of cholesterol: good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL). It is the ratio between the two that is important. LDL carries cholesterol through the body and deposits excess amounts in the blood vessels. HDL mops up this excess and carries it back to the liver, where it can be broken down and excreted by the body (fiber helps this process). If the level of LDL is much higher than the level of HDL, then more and more cholesterol gets deposited in the blood vessels, which may ultimately lead to a blockage. Although every cell in the body has a need for cholesterol, the body is able to manufacture all it needs, provided its owner is eating a nutritionally balanced diet.

Saturated fat that has been associated with heart disease. To restrict your intake of both saturated fat and cholesterol, reduce the amount of meat you eat and always choose lean cuts. Despite popular belief, beef is not exceptionally high in cholesterol and contains a comparable amount as chicken or fish. The total saturated fat content of beef is more than chicken or fish.

Fats are one of the macronutrients and an important source of energy for our bodies. They are broken down into fatty acids, which are used for development and maintenance of our bodily structure. Certain fats are better than others but you should always limit your intake to the recommended amounts. An excess of any food source can be deleterious to your health. Stored fat is the body’s way of “saving up for a rainy day”. In situations where food sources are limited, stored fat can be utilized for energy for up to 40 days. Excessive amounts however can limit your life expectancy and lead to the development of chronic diseases. Remember the goal of good nutrition is to maintain a healthy body so you can function at the highest level possible, for as long as possible.

I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:

Live healthy, live well and live long!

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