Fats: Types, Sources, and The Role They Play in Your Diet

Fat, although it has gotten a bad rap over the years, is not bad for you and if fact you need some to live. Fat plays some very important roles in the body. The problem is that most people eat way too much and eat too much of the wrong kind of fat. Whereas some fats are required for the body to function, other fats are harmful to the human body.

Saturated fat is the kind that tastes really good. It comes primarily from animal products such as lard and butter. If you keep it at room temperature it will remain solid and you can't see through it. The problem with saturated fat is that it causes your body to produce too much cholesterol which can lead to heart disease. It is also found in meat, especially if it is not trimmed. Chicken and turkey have lower levels of saturated fat while foods such as burgers and hot dogs usually have high levels.

There are two other kinds of fat that are much better for you and should be consumed instead of the saturated fat. These are poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat, sometimes grouped together as unsaturated fat. This is found primarily in vegetable products. The best one being olive oil which has been shown to help prevent heart disease. Canola oil is another good source of these types of fats.

Some nuts may be high in fat but some research has shown that this fat does not pose the same health risk as animal products. Of course, servings should be small as moderation is important.

One gram of fat has about 9 calories. It is more than twice as much as a gram of protein or carbohydrate so be careful how much you consume. About 30% of your calories should come from fats, primarily good fats.

Watch out for products that advertise "low in saturated fat" but then say that the product is hydrogenated. Hydrogenating an oil is a method of taking a healthy fat and altering its molecular structure to give it a better taste and look. The problem is that it also changes the fat so that it has a similar negative affect on the body as saturated fat.

Triglycerides, which has been making headlines recently, is a product that is found in abundance in fats and oils. It is used for taste, texture, and as a preservative. However, it is believed that this compound is responsible for contributing to heart disease and should be avoided whenever possible.

Trans fat is another product that has been getting a lot of publicity. Trans fat is created when poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats (which, in moderation, are good for the body) are changed chemically by hydrogenating them. This process makes them into saturated fats. Unlike natural saturated fat, which in small amounts has some nutritional value, trans fats have absolutely no health benefits and they contribute to many health problems. Experts also believe that trans fats are more harmful than natural saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in many processed foods such as junk food and margarine.

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