We’ve been conditioned to think of fat as the enemy. Which is unfortunate, because anyone with taste buds can tell you that fat is what gives food its flavor. So what is fat, anyway? Is it possible that fat is good for you or is it all bad? And does it have a purpose, other than giving you that oh-so-attractive midsection pudge?
Fat is more than just a flavor enhancer. It’s an absolute necessity. Your body requires three different major components to survive and thrive. One is carbohydrates, one is protein, and the other is – you guessed it – fat.
It performs several functions in your body. First, fat’s extremely high calorie density (contains 255 calories per gram, vs. carbohydrates, which contain 113 calories per ounce) makes it a very efficient source of energy. This is why your body stores excess calories as fat: in the event that you are deprived of food for any reason, the energy from stored fat can be tapped into immediately, and your body can continue to function.
Besides serving as an energy source, it helps synthesize certain hormones and acts as storage for certain vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are stored your body’s fat reserves and released as needed. In addition, although your body can make some fatty acids, it can’t produce others. Those fatty acids, called “essential fatty acids,” must come from your diet.
Before you happily help yourself to that second serving of bacon, note that all fats are the same. There are “bad” fats and “good” fats, and your health can depend on which you choose to eat more of.
“Bad” fats include trans and saturated fats. Saturated fats can be found in found in full-fat dairy products, meats and poultry. If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with saturated fat, there’s a handy way to tell –if you let it sit at room temperature it tends to be solid. Trans fats are man-made and found in processed foods, such as peanut butter, margarine and some snack foods. Saturated and trans fats can contribute to an excess buildup of LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol in your bloodstream. In fact, saturated and trans fats are more of a factor in high cholesterol than dietary cholesterol itself. High cholesterol can lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Good” fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are the fats you find in foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and most vegetable oils. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats play a part in lowering “bad” cholesterol and raising HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
A handy rule of thumb: Experts suggest that 30 percent or less of your total caloric intake should come from fat. 10 percent or less of your total caloric intake should come from saturated fats, and 1 percent or less should come from trans fats. So go ahead and have that slice of bacon – just make sure most of your fats come from healthy sources.