Fats: definition, types, sources, benefits and side effects

What are fats? Well, the body uses fat as a fuel source. It is the primary form of energy storage in the body. Fats are essential macronutrients that provide a concentrated source of energy in the body. They play an essential role in cell structure, hormone production and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. A healthy person should add a moderate amount of fats to their diet. However, fats are high in calories: they provide 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram from carbohydrates and proteins. It is therefore necessary to have a balanced intake of these fats with good physical activity.

Types of fats

Try to get most of your dietary fats from unsaturated sources, while limiting saturated and trans fats. Remember that fats are high in calories, so portion control is very necessary.

1. Saturated fats

These fats are usually solid at room temperature and are commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, as well as some vegetable oils like coconut and palm oil. Beyond moderate consumption, saturated fats can disrupt cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

2. Monounsaturated fats

These fats are liquid at room temperature and are found in foods like olive oil, avocados, and nuts. These fats are considered heart-healthy fats that can help reduce bad cholesterol levels.

3. Polyunsaturated fats

These include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts and have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils and seeds, but excessive consumption of omega-3s could contribute to inflammation.

4. Trans fat

These are fats created artificially through a process called hydrogenation. They are found in some processed foods, baked goods and fried foods. Trans fats are considered harmful and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Fried foods can contribute to fat consumption. Image provided by: Shutterstock

Are all fats bad for your health?

Not all fats are bad. There are healthy fats and good fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like avocados, nuts and fish that can benefit your health.

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How much fat can you eat per day?

The amount of fat one can consume depends on one’s dietary needs and goals. Ideally, dietary guidelines suggest that fats should make up about 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake. It’s important to focus on incorporating healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) while moderating saturated and trans fats. For example, if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet, you can consume around 40 to 55 grams of fat.

What are the sources of fat?

Wondering how to add fat to your diet? To consume healthy fats, consider these tips:

Choose healthy sources of fat

  • Choose foods high in unsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
  • Use oils rich in healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola oil, for cooking and dressing.
  • Practice portion control: Pay attention to portion sizes, as fats are high in calories.
  • Stick to recommended servings

Limit saturated and trans fats in your diet

What are the side effects of eating too much fat in a diet?

According to the World Health Organization, excessive consumption of fat in the diet has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, heart problems and certain types of cancer. A fatty diet can also impact gut health and metabolism, which can impact blood sugar, cholesterol as well as liver problems.

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