Fat is stored in the body in the form of triglycerides in fat cells and the skeletal muscle. Free fatty acids, the broken-down form of triglycerides, provide energy for exercise. Fat is an important source of stored energy. This is because it produces more energy per gram than all other nutrients (9 calories per gram, compared to 4 grams for protein and carbohydrates) and also provides up to 50% of the body’s everyday energy.
Fat can be divided into three different groups, saturated, trans and unsaturated.
Saturated fat is found in animal foods such as milk, cheese and meat. The saturated fat hidden in processed foods such as pies, biscuits, chocolate, etc play a large part in contributing to the fat in the diet. Saturated fat contains cholesterol. This is a non-essential nutrient produced from within the body.
When blood cholesterol levels rise, blood vessels may become lined with cholesterol, which can lead to cardiovascular problems such as heart disease.
Trans fat is found in foods such as biscuits, baked goods, chips, and other commercially fried foods. Trams fats result from a chemical process used by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. Trans fats are used because of its smooth texture and its re-usability in deep-fat frying. It is also known to extend the shelf-life of products so is popular with manufacturers of biscuits and packaged “junk” foods. Trans fats have been shown to increase the bad cholesterol in our body and increase the risk of heart disease. For these reasons, trans fats should be consumed in minimal quantities.
There are two groups of unsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat is found in most vegetable oils and oily fish such as tuna and salmon. Mono-unsaturated fat is found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nuts. Both types of unsaturated fat help lower the total cholesterol level and contain essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself. Unsaturated fat reduces low-density lipoproteins (LDL), that are responsible for blocking arteries, without reducing the high-density lipoproteins (HDL), that offer protection against heart disease.
Dietary Guidelines recommend that 10% or less of your daily calorie intake should be from saturated fats and less than 1% from trans fats. The key is to substitute the bad fats with good ones found in nuts, seeds, fish and some oils such as flaxseed and olive.
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