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Get Your Fats Straight: Functions and
Facts of Fats (Lipids)

Apart from carbohydrates and protein, fats or lipids are the third major macronutrients required by the body. Although 'fat' has a bad reputation and is often used to describe saggy bottoms and tire bellies, some fat is essential for development. In fact, the right kinds of fat can not only be beneficial to your health but can also assist with weight loss too!

Much like carbohydrates, lipids are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Fat is the most concentrated energy source, and while it has many functions within the body, one of its main duties is to transport, absorb and digest the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. Other functions include:

  • To provide protective cushioning for the body's vital organs such as the heart and stomach
  • To assist with insulation
  • To supply the body with essential fatty acids
  • To store energy
  • To provide some source of fuel
Lipids come in two forms. They can either be in oil form, which is liquid at room temperature or fats, which is solid and room temperature. Your oils would include olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil etc, while solid fats would include butter and lard.

It is important to realize that while fat is essential, the body only requires a maximum of 30% of its total calories to come from fat and that an over-consumption of fat, be it good or bad fat, can lead to obesity. The trick is to get in the right kind of fat and the right amount of fat.

The good, the bad and the ugly

It is important to know the difference between the good and bad fats and be able to differentiate between the two. Good fats include your monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while saturated fats are bad and trans fats being the worst. The difference between the good and the bad fats is the difference between good health and chronic illness.

Mono and polyunsaturated fats raise healthy HDL-cholesterol levels, while saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, promote chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain cancers because they raise LDL-cholesterol levels and lower HDL-cholesterol levels.

Olive Oil
Olive oil is a good
source of good fats

Monounsaturated fats
These include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil as well as nuts and avocadoes and you should get about 10-15% of your total calories from these types of fats.

Polyunsaturated fats
These include omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fats include corn, safflower, sesame, soy and sunflower oils as well as nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats include flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts as well as cold-water fish such as salmon mackerel, sardines, herring and tuna.

Polyunsaturated fats should make up a maximum of 10% of your total calories.

Saturated fats
Saturated fats are found in meats and poultry as well as coconut, palm and palm kernel oil, whole milk, cream cheese, cheese and processed foods such as cookies, chips and baked goods. Consumption of these should be kept to a minimum.

Trans fats
The "bad boy" of fats. These include processed foods like pastries, cookies, fried chips, and other fried foods as well as sweets and candy, margarine and shortening. These should be avoided as much as possible.

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