Published: 08/07/2014 - Updated: 04/26/2016
When we hear the word “fat”, something unhealthy or even dangerous probably comes to mind; something that’s best avoided. In reality, though, our body’s needs fats, we just need to know how to choose the healthiest ones
What are fats?
In our diet, fats are groups of macronutrients, necessary for our development. They are generally found in the foods we eat, in greater or lesser quantities.
We obtain fats through our diet, and when we digest them, they are absorbed as fatty acids, which arrive at the blood stream forming triglycerides. They are stored in this form as an energy source, and act as an efficient energy reserve. These are used to execute our daily functions, and usually after we have depleted our carbohydrate energy reserves.
Types of fat
Fats are classified in two ways: saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats: Typically come from animal food sources, like cheese, milk, butter, and of course meats have abundant fats. They are typically in solid form, and excess consumption of them can be harmful to the body. This can provoke high blood cholesterol levels, uric acid, obesity, gallbladder diseases, renal problems, and certain types of cancer.
Unsaturated fats: They are divided into mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and are considered better quality than saturated fats. They are usually in liquid form (such as oils), and they can be very beneficial to the body.
The World Health Organization recommended that fats provide between 20 and 30% of our daily food intake. This percentage, however, should include the following distribution of different types of fats:
30% of fats, 10% of which should be saturated fats, 8% polyunsaturated fats, and 7 % monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids also form part of our essential fatty acids, where linoleic acid (omega-6), and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) are found.
Vegetable oils are the main sources of omega-6 fatty acids, like corn, sunflower, soy, and sesame oil. Omeg-3 acids are found in vegetable oils like linseed, soy, walnut, as well as green, leafy vegetables and oily fish. Some benefits of consuming these types of fatty acids are lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, they dilate blood vessels, and some studies even mention that they help prevent the development of certain types of cancer.
A diet that lacks omega fatty acids can also affect our health, causing hair loss, poor wound healing, miscarriages, vision problems, weakness, weak immune system, mental deterioration, and sterility in men.
Benefits of fats
Fats serve several different purposes in our bodies. They form cell membranes, and are necessary for healthy nerve functioning, the spine, and the brain.
Fats also serve as a vehicle for some vitamins, like A, D, E, and K vitamins, which is why they are necessary for vitamin absorption.
Fats also help protect our organs, while keeping the skin moist and protected against external contaminants. And lastly, let’s not forget that they are a source of energy. Fats serve a very important purpose in our bodies.
Sources of healthy fats
Even though fats serve a great purpose in our bodies, it is absolutely vital to choose healthy fats, and to consume them in moderation.
Seeds: a rich source of omega 3 and 6 fats, which is why it is advisable to eat them regularly. A few examples are linseed, chia seeds, amaranth, sesame, sunflower, etc. You should chew them, or blend them before eating, to make sure they’re well absorbed.
Avocado: their monounsaturated fatty acid content helps reduce cholesterol levels and prevents cardiac disease. It is also a rich source of vitamins, and contains all of the 12 existing vitamins.
Olive and sunflower oil: Contains omega fatty acids. However, it is advisable to avoid exposure to high temperatures if you are going to consume them, and add them to your meals in moderation.
Vegetable milks: Unlike cow’s milk, vegetable milks, like almond, walnut, or oatmeal, contain healthier unsaturated fats, so they are a recommendable substitution for cow’s milk.
Dried fruit: Their types of fat make them highly recommendable. Eating just one handful of them three times a week helps artery health, and reduces cholesterol levels. They also provide us with calcium, iron, and folic acid.