What is fat?

Posted on October 21, 2015

lard-canAfter having my 3rd son, I started to research fat. I remember watching The Food Network and hearing different cooking hosts say, “Fat is flavor.” Which got me thinking….if fat is flavor, why are we told to limit how much we eat and what to cook with? Then I started wondering…our ancestors from prior to the 1950’s ate and cooked with butter and lard, and we rarely heard of people dying of heart disease or a lot of diseases that are prominent today. So here are some facts about fat. Please note that I am not a registered dietitian nor nutritionist and the following information is strictly to educate. Please consult your doctor if you plan on making any dietary changes.

A saturated fat is a fat in which the fatty acids have single bonds. An unsaturated fat is a fatty acid in which there is at least one double bond within the fatty acid chain (1). Monounsaturated fatty acids, aka MUFAs, are fatty acids that have one double bond in the fatty acid chain with all of the other remaining carbon atoms being single bonded (2). Polyunsaturated fatty acids, aka PUFAs, have more than one double bond (3).

Examples of saturated fat include, butter, cream, full fat cheeses, fatty meat, lard, coconuts, coconut oil, palm oil, and dark chocolate (10).

Examples of unsaturated fat include olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, corn oil, salmon, tuna, flax seeds, nuts, seeds (2,3, 4), and avocado(6).goodfat

How about omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids? Well, omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, vegetable oils, and leafy vegetables. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in plant oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oil (7). But the ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is 1:1, but the typical American diet is more like 1:20, due to the over abundance of oils in processed foods (8).

But with all these fats out there, which ones should we be avoiding? The primary fats to avoid are trans fat, including those with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat or oil, in which hydrogen has been added to the fat to allow it to have a longer lasting shelf life. These include baked goods containing shortening, snacks such as popcorn, refrigerated dough, fried foods, non-dairy creamer, and margarine (5). Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels. Trans fat also increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (11).

So if fat is a 3 letter word you try to stay clear of, think about this. Fat is essential for the proper function of your: cell membranes, heart, bones to assimilate calcium, liver, lungs, hormones, immune system, satiety to reduce hunger, and genetic regulation (8).

I encourage you research and educate yourself on fat as research studies have changed about saturated fat (9). And I encourage you to check out this video in regards to coconut oil and Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Heather Patrick, DPT




1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturated_fat

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