Fats, another name for lipids, are nutrients that are made up of fatty acid hydrocarbons which are used by the body in various ways: for energy, hormones, organ function, nerve structure and neurotransmitters, and emotional and mental health. Fat has 9 calories of energy per gram which requires twice the amount of oxidation compared to carbohydrates and protein.
The body can make fat from carbohydrates and/or protein except for three types of fat known as essential fatty acids (EFA) which have an essential role in fat metabolism and the functioning of many systems, organs, glands, and tissues in the body.
Cholesterol is a unique type of fat, within the sterol classification, with a broad range of functions in the human body.
Fats are Made of Triglycerides
Triglycerides are the primary components of fats and oils found in animals and plants have a structure of one glycerol linked by ester chains to three fatty acid hydrocarbon chains. Fatty acids come in chains denoted by their length, saturation with hydrogen, and location of the first double bond.
Fatty Acid Chains
A fatty acid chain is as long as the number of carbon atoms; for example, C8 is 8 carbon atoms within the fatty acid chain.
Short chain = less than 6 carbon atoms
Medium chain = 7 - 11 carbon atoms
Long chain = 12 or more carbon atoms
Hydrogen Saturation of Fatty Acids
Hydrogen saturation within fatty acids equates to the number double bonds between carbon atoms that reduce the rate of hydrogen saturation of a fatty acid. Less hydrogen in a fatty acid means that the fatty acid is more unsaturated. A fatty acid that has no double bonds is fully saturated with hydrogen atoms, which solidifies and stabilizes the saturated fatty acid at room temperature and protects if from oxidation reactions with light, heat, and air.
Saturated = 0 double bonds
Solid and stable @ room temperature
Monounsaturated (MUFA) = 1 double double bond
Liquid and unstable @ room temperature
Polyunsaturated (PUFA) = more than 1 double bond
Liquid and unstable @ room temperature
Omega Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
The double bond location of a polyunsaturated fatty acid, at the third, sixth, or ninth position is referred to as an omega fatty acid.
Linolenic* = Omega 3
Linoleic* = Omega 6
Arachidonic* = Omega 6
Oleic = Omega 9
[*] These essential fatty acids must be eaten in the diet and obtained from food, because they cannot be synthesized by humans.
Arachidonic can be synthesized by humans, but still requires consumption of linoleic acid. Linolenic acid is used to synthesize two other important fatty acids called Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are specifically important for nerve and brain health and development.
Trans Fatty Acids and Hydrogenated Fats
Trans fatty acids, a.k.a. trans fats, are unsaturated fatty acids, MUFA's and PUFA's, that have different shaped double bonds; trans- double bonds instead of cis- double bonds. Trans- form a straight chain fatty acid instead of a cis- which forms a bent chain fatty acid. Trans fats occur in very small amounts within foods naturally, but they are also created in large amounts by an industrial food processing method called hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation is a industrial process of applying very-high heat to unsaturated fats to add additional hydrogen atoms for increasing hydrogen saturation to prolong the shelf life of food products made with hydrogenated fats. The application of very-high heat makes the unsaturated fatty acids solid and stable a room temperature, but also damages a large amount the unsaturated fatty acids. Unfortunately, the damaged unsaturated fatty acid molecules become oxidized and release a substantial increased amount of harmful free-radical by-products which increase oxidative stress on tissues and cells when consumed.
Fats are Part of a Complete Meal or Snack
Every complete meal or snack should have a portion of a food with fats. Fats are best consumed at even intervals throughout the day, about every 4-6 hours. Choose varied sources of fats as often as possible so that the body has the many different types of fats available for optimal health and functioning. Always choose one source of food and/or supplement daily that contains a minimum of 1,000 mgs to 3,000 omega essential fatty acids (EFA's) daily.
Digestion of fats occur by being emulsified into smaller clusters or individual fatty acids within the small intestine duodenum by the release of bile from the gall bladder. Bile is made of water, bile salts, cholesterol, and acids that are used to more easily mix insoluble fats with water and later lipase enzymes secreted by the pancreas. A lack of bile will impair fat emulsification, digestion, absorption, and cause uncomfortable bubbling and bloating in the abdomen.
Recommended Minimum Consumption of Fats
Minimum fat consumption depends on height and it is not necessary to consume a specific required amount; what is more important is to eat a variety of fats from various food sources in the diet, such as meats, dairy, butter, eggs, nuts, fish, olives, avocado, green leafy vegetables, and oils.
Height Feet' Inches" or Centimeters (cm) ~ fat per day
Up to 5' 0" or 150 cm ~80 grams
5' 1" - 5' 5" or 155 cm - 165cm ~115 grams
5' 6 - 5' 10" or 167.5 cm - 177 cm ~150 grams
5' 11" - 6' 3" or 180 cm - 190 cm ~185 grams
6' 4" + or 195 cm + ~220 grams
Underconsumption of Fats
Less than the minimum recommended amount of a fat per day is not recommended as this will cause deficiency in available fat for stable energy throughout the day, in addition to causing a lack of easily available fat for cell integrity in the organs and tissues, such as the lungs, blood vessels, skin, and hair.
Long term underconsumption of fat, and especially the essential fatty acids, will result in slow growth, reduced regeneration, and impaired recovery from exercise and stress. Additionally, lack of sufficient fats in the daily diet over a long period of time will compromise skin health, digestion, immune function, nervous function, hormonal health, and blood circulation and blood pressure.
Overconsumption of Fats
Continuous overconsumption of fat while consuming complete meals can be difficult, but consumption of fat over 1.5 times the recommended minimum can overburden the digestive and eliminative organs and produce weakness and lethargy.
Imbalanced Overconsumption of Fats
Chronic imbalanced overconsumption of fats, without sufficient vitamin, mineral, and bioflavonoid antioxidants to support energy oxidation, will result in tissue breakdown and compromise the health and functioning of all tissues throughout the entire body.
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