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Lipids are most commonly known as fats, oils, waxes, and related compounds that are not soluble in water. Fats are primarily a mix of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. They differ from carbohydrates because they have fewer oxygen atoms present. One gram of fat will yield 9 calories of energy when burned by our cells.

All fats have both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The degree of saturation of fat depends on how many hydrogen atoms are present, and whether it is liquid or solid at room temperature. In general, the saturated fatty acids are worse for the body because they are artery clogging. These fats usually come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature. When a pair of hydrogen atoms are missing from the fatty acid it is usually monounsaturated, if more are missing it is polyunsaturated. Just as there are essential amino acids, there are essential fatty acids. These are the polyunsaturated fats or Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. These are the “Good Fats” that are necessary for body metabolism, and cannot be manufactured by the body, so they must be supplied in the diet. These essential fatty acids can be found in foods like sesame seeds, olive oil, wheat germ, sardines, and salmon to name a few.

There is another “Bad Fat” structure related to the unsaturated fatty acids (called the Trans fatty acids or TFA’s) that has been getting a lot of publicity lately. A recent study of 80,000 nurses showed that the risk of developing heart disease almost doubled for every 2% increase in consumption of TFA’s5. Tran’s fatty acids are fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation. The more hydrogenated an oil is, the harder it will be at room temperature. It can be found in products such as margarine, cookies, doughnuts, french fries, fish sticks, and even baby cookies. Soon there will be a change in food labeling making it easier for consumers to understand how many grams of TFA’s are in the foods we buy.

After a high-fat feeding that may occur when on a high-protein diet, there is an inadequate amount of carbohydrate available for energy needs, and the excess fat is oxidized or metabolized forming ketones. If these ketones are allowed to accumulate, the condition known as ketoacidosis occurs, putting stress once again on the kidneys which try to rid the body of the intermediate waste products of protein and fat metabolism.

While fat is a necessary nutrient, too much can lead to obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Limit the fat in the diet to 30% whereby 10% or less is from a saturated source. On an average 2000 calorie diet this is 45 grams of “good” fats, and 20 grams of allowable saturated fat.


Myths and facts about fats

Myth: All fats are equal—and equally bad for you.

Fact: Saturated fats and Trans fats are bad for you because they raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. But monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for you, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease.

Myth: Lowering the amount of fat you eat is what matters the most.

Fact: The mix of fats that you eat, rather than the total amount in your diet, is what matters most when it comes to your cholesterol and health. The key is to eat more good fats and less bad fats.

Myth: Fat-free means healthy.

Fact: A “fat-free” label doesn’t mean you can eat all you want without consequences to your waistline. Many fat-free foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories.

Myth: Eating a low-fat diet is the key to weight loss.

Fact: The obesity rates for Americans have doubled in the last 20 years, coinciding with the low-fat revolution. Cutting calories is the key to weight loss, and since fats are filling, they can help curb overeating.