Virtually all aspects of the food industry have been hit with the much needed health craze of the world. And through the years we have been dutifully warned that fat is bad. For this reason even the fast food chains and popular restaurants are listing “low fat” items on their menus. However, the fact remains – all fat isn’t bad fat. In fact, our bodies actually need fat . Let’s look a little deeper into the types of body fat and dietary fat to get a greater understanding.
The Two Types of Body Fat
In the human body we have visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is located in the abdominal cavity and surrounds our vital organs. Too much of this fat can cause serious medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and increased risk of diabetes. However, visceral fat also acts as a shock absorber for trauma to the body. Subcutaneous fat is located just under the skin and also acts as a protective layer. Both fatty tissues serve as reserve energy storages and insulators. In addition, fat aids the body in absorbing essential nutrients and even lubricates the joints.
The Four Types of Dietary Fat
As a vital part of dietary intake we need to ingest a certain amount of fat. In our fat conscious society we have undoubtedly seen and heard the many recommendations for ingesting less and less fat for a healthier life. Basically there are four types of dietary fat:
Saturated Fat – This type is mainly found in foods such as meat and dairy products. You may have heard this type of fat referred to as “animal fat”. At room temperature saturated fat remains solid and is either white or cream colored. Fry up some ground beef take a look at the sludge formed in the bottom of the pan after it cools. Now imagine that same sludge fighting its way through your arteries. Saturated fat melts at 86 to 95F; the average body temperature is 97.9F.
Monounsaturated Fat – You’ll find this type of fat in the increasingly popular olive oil varieties, as well as canola, sunflower and nut oils. It is also present in peanut butter, avocados and certain types of nuts and seeds. This type of fat is in the middle of the road as far as the melting point is concerned and only turns solid when chilled. A particularly beneficial function of this type of fat is the ability to raise HDL (the good cholesterol) while decreasing LDL (the bad cholesterol).
Polyunsaturated Fat – The two mains types of this fat group are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. You’ll find this fat in a number of fish and vegetable oils. This is the healthiest of all the fats listed so far, so it would be prudent to replace the other types of fats with polyunsaturated fats as much as possible in your diet. Take special notice of the caloric intake when using this type of fat as it can be considerably high.
Trans Fat – Unlike the previously mentioned fats which are natural, this type of fat is man made and mainly found in processed foods. Fast food chains are notorious for using trans fats to deep fat fry their menu items.
As a general rule, the unsaturated fats are better from a health standpoint and trans fats should probably be avoided altogether. When you look at the nutritional value of any given fat-containing product you’ll find there is usually a combination of the fats listed above. The essential fatty acids containing omega 3 and 6 are commonly referred to as fat burning foods and can help in weight reduction. Now that you have a better understanding of good and bad fats, be sure to pay greater attention to food labels boasting “low-fat” and “reduced-fat” options.