Fat is the poor, misunderstood stepchild of the macronutrient world. Twenty years ago the media condemned all fat as bad and it was subsequently banned from cookies, crackers, potato chips, soups, yogurt, milk, and (the horror!) ice cream. It’s true that fat is very energy dense, but we absolutely need fat. In fact our bodies can’t survive without a certain amount of “essential” Omega-3 and Omega-6 fat. On the other hand some types of fat, like trans fat, should indeed be limited.
Essential fats: Omega-3 and 6
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are “essential” fats, meaning that our bodies cannot manufacture these fats on its own and must therefore get them from food sources. These fats are vital components of cell membranes and help transport fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, Omega-3 fats help reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and are therefore associated with improved long term cardiovascular health (see Jamie’s recent post on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet). Omega-6 fats, while still essential, often cause an increase in blood pressure. Although we technically need both types fat, we tend to get more than enough of the Omega-6 fatty acids and not nearly enough of the Omega-3 fatty acids.
Do a little research and see if you can answer the following questions about essential fatty acids: What are some primary sources of omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids? What is the recommended consumption ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids? What ratio does the typical American diet provide? Would it be possible to integrate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet?
There really aren’t many foods that I consider truly “bad”, but there’s nothing good about hydrogenated or trans fat, at least from a health perspective. Hydrogenation is an artificial process used to extend the shelf life of foods and/or provide a certain mouth feel. Hydrogenated fat is particularly bad for you because it not only increases “bad” LDL cholesterol and inflammation (major risk factors for heart disease), but also decreases your “good” HDL cholesterol.
Do a little research and see if you can answer the following questions about trans fat. What are some primary food sources of trans fat? How many grams of trans fat are recommended per day? How many grams of trans fat do you think you consume on a daily basis? What are some healthier alternatives to trans fat?