Dietary fats are common constituents of our daily meals. Old school chefs would still contend that nothing can replace the oleaginous nature of natural fats, which plays a role in giving taste to the food that we eat. In fact, in spite of the campaign to implement healthy eating by eliminating excess fat from the diet, there are those who still use copious amounts of lard in their cooking, or refrain from trimming the skin or fat from their meats.
There is no doubt that excess dietary fat is linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Although adding fat in one’s diet is also essential in promoting gustatory appetite, it should be underscored that not all fats are created equal. Some fats can promote heart disease, whilst others are claimed to reduce cholesterol levels in some individuals.
Dietary fat is classified into two types, that is saturated and unsaturated fats. A simplistic differentiation of both fats is that the former remains solid at room temperature, whilst the latter remains liquid in its form. From a chemical point of view, however, saturated fats cannot bind with an extra hydrogen in their molecule, whereas unsaturated fats have room for additional hydrogen. Likewise, saturated fats have been linked to increased cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. Some isolated studies have also shown that a link exists between high saturated fat intake and the rise of many types of cancer. Saturated fats are mainly derived from animal sources, such as red meats, lard, butter, skin of poultry, and whole milk dairy products. Vegetable oils, such as coconut and palm, are also rich in saturated fats.
Conversely, unsaturated fats can reduce total cholesterol levels and are related to reduced cardiovascular mortality. Unsaturated fats also provide the body with linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid that helps absorb fat soluble vitamins. Unsaturated fat is obtained from vegetable sources, such as peanut and olive (mono-unsaturated) and corn, safflower, and sunflower (polyunsaturated) oils.
Most health nutritionists would suggest that young adults should include about one tablespoon of unsaturated fat in their diet each day. This amount should be sufficient to provide the adequate levels of linoleic acid. As a general rule however, total fats in the diet should not exceed 30 percent of the total calories. For example, if one meal amounts to 1,000 calories, then no more than 300 calories should come from fat constituents, in order to achieve good nutrition. Out of this 30 percent, no more than 10 percent should come from saturated fats.
Another point to consider is that dietary fat is the most “fattening” of the three food sources. For example, a gram of carbohydrates or protein can store up to four calories of energy resource, whereas one gram of fat creates a whooping nine calories of expendable energy. In majority of cases, this caloric energy ends up being stored as body fat, in view of the sedentary lifestyle that most people live.
In addition to its role as an energy reservoir, our body does need fat to carry out certain other functions, such as in temperature insulation, cushioning body organs, and acting as natural defenses against infection. The important thing to remember is that too much saturated fat is bad, and too little fat is also deleterious to good health. We should all strive to maintain a minimum percent body fat, which should be six percent of body weight for males, and nine percent of body weight for females.