Fat is an important nutrient that sometimes gets a bad rap. Its major functions in the body include providing an energy source, aiding in the absorption and transport of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, cushioning organs, and regulating body temperature. All women, pregnant or not, should get 20 to 35 percent of their calories from fat. Fat can be dangerous to health if consumed in excess or if the wrong kinds of fat are eaten. It is important to include fat in your daily diet but in moderation. Fat is a very concentrated source of calories. A gram of fat has 9 calories, twice as many as a gram of carbohydrates or protein (both of which contain 4 calories per gram). A small amount of fat can go a long way!
How Many Fats Are There?
There are different types of triglycerides, or dietary fats. Some of these fats are more harmful than others. The major kinds of fats in the foods we eat are saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans-fatty acids or hydrogenated fats. The unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) are referred to as the “healthy” fats. These fats can help to lower cholesterol levels, and they also have heart-protective factors. Most of the fat in your diet should be unsaturated.
Sources of monounsaturated fats include certain plant-based oils, such as olive, canola, and peanut. Avocados are also good sources of monounsaturated fats. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include certain other plantbased oils such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and soybean. Nuts and seeds are also good sources. This group also includes the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish. There are two polyunsaturated essential fatty acids that your body does not make and you must get from the food you consume. These two fatty acids are linoleic acid (or omega-6) and linolenic acid (or omega-3).
Eating a totally fat-free diet is not part of a healthy eating style. Fat is an essential nutrient, and some fats-such as omega-3 fatty acids-are necessary for certain parts of a baby’s development. A totally fat-free diet may also fail to provide sufficient calories.
Saturated fats and trans-fatty acids tend to increase blood cholesterol levels, which can lead to health problems such as heart disease and stroke. The major sources of saturated fat are animal foods such as meat, poultry, and whole-milk dairy products. However, some plant sources also provide saturated fat, including palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils. Food that contains trans-fats includes some margarines, cookies, crackers, and other commercial baked goods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, as well as French fries, donuts, and other commercial fried foods.
Slash the Fat
Fat is definitely a needed nutrient in a healthy diet. The problem is that most Americans consume too much and the wrong kinds. Don’t cut fat completely out of your diet, but it is important to cut back and to choose the right types. This means lowering your intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. You should also lower your blood cholesterol or maintain it at safe levels as a way of decreasing your risk for heart disease. You can cut the fat and cholesterol from your meals without losing any flavor. For example, try using egg whites or egg substitute in place of whole eggs. Choose leaner meats, cook with skinless poultry and fish, or occasionally opt for a vegetarian meal with beans or soy products as your main protein source. Read the nutrition facts panel to keep an eye on your daily intake of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
Cholesterol is not the same as fat. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance, but it has a different structure and different functions in the body than fat does. Because cholesterol provides no energy to the body, it has no calories.