STILLWATER, Okla. – Despite the fact that some people try to eat as little fat as possible, it is important to remember that fat is a key component of a healthy diet.
Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, said fats have many roles in the body.
“Fats help protect organs and prevent heat loss,” Hermann said. “In addition, they also are a source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as a source of calories. Too much fat can be harmful and a high fat diet increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.”
The basic fat unit is fatty acids, of which there are three types, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Linoleic and linolenic acids are two polyunsaturated fatty acids the body does not make on its own. These must come from the diet.
Hermann said a compound called glycerol carries fatty acids. A triglyceride is a glycerol with three fatty acids. Blood triglycerides are a measure of fat in the blood.
“Fats in food are mixtures of fatty acids. Fats with more unsaturated fatty acids are usually liquid at room temperature,” she said. “Fats with more saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature. A couple of exceptions are palm and coconut oil. While both are liquid at room temperature, they are very saturated.”
Polyunsaturated fats can be hydrogenated. Hydrogenated fats are more solid. For example, margarine contains polyunsaturated fats that have been hydrogenated to be more solid. Stick margarines are more hydrogenated, and thus more solid, than tub margarines. The process of hydrogenation can also produce trans fatty acids which are associated with increased risk of heart disease.
“Many people try to cut out meat and milk in an attempt to lower the fat content of their diet. Your body needs adequate protein and calcium to function properly,” Hermann said. “Instead choose low fat versions of your favorite foods, use low fat cooking methods and use less of foods that are high in fat. We all know that too much fat isn’t good, but keep in mind that some fat is essential for your body.”
Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.
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