Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet but they come in many shapes, names and forms. Lets take a look at why you need healthy fats and where you get them.

There are two types of unsaturated fat that your body cannot synthesize – omega 3 and omega 6 which must be obtained from foods. Omega 3 fats can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, as well as walnuts and flaxseeds. Omega 6 fats are found mostly in vegetable oils.

Most people get an abundance of these fats in their diet. Omega 3 fats however are consumed less often as they are found in sources of foods that are usually eaten less frequently. Your body needs these fats for brain development, helping to reduce chronic inflammation and blood clotting associated with many diseases including heart disease and stroke.

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Most of us can benefit from increasing our consumption of omega 3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids also include healthy mono-unsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil which are also important for heart health.

Why do we need fats?

The fats you eat are an important source of energy. The body relies on fats for many functions such as sources of energy during rest and aerobic activity. Fat is necessary to for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat also insulates your body to keep you warm and acts as a shock absorber for your organs.

Fat has double the amount of calories than carbohydrates or protein per gram. Combined with protein and carbohydrates consuming a small serving of fat at each meal can help to satiate you so you will not be hungry again for a few hours. As a result you may consume less total calories for the day and lose weight over time.

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Controversial fats

Traditional dietary and medical advice is that Saturated Fats are known to raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level. High LDL cholesterol can put you at risk of heart attack, stroke and other major health problems. Saturated fats come mostly from animal products, such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream, fatty meats and some vegetable sources such as coconut and palm oil.

The US dietary guidelines recommend limiting your saturated fat intake to less than 10% per day.

However, some health professionals believe that saturated fat is not as much the problem as is excess consumption of carbohydrates such as added sugars in the diet which contributes to the production of small, dense LDL particles associated with heart disease.

According to a report by progressivehealth.com; “Although LDL cholesterol is commonly called “bad” cholesterol, this is not always true. In fact, low-density lipoproteins or LDL particles come in different sizes. The LDL particles associated with heart disease are the small, dense ones. Large less dense LDL particles are safe and may even be good for the heart.

“Therefore, it is important to raise the levels of large LDL particles in the same ways that we try to raise the levels of HDL particles. . . . Just as important, the amount of circulating small, dense LDL particles should be reduced. Overall, studies show that the best ways to lower the level of small, dense LDL is to cut back on carbs instead of dietary fat and cholesterol while exercising regularly. . . .

“Sugar is a good example of a carbohydrate with high glycemic index. It can, therefore, increase the amount of small, dense LDL particles in the blood.”

Overall recommendations

The USDA recommends that a healthy diet include 20-35% of calories from fats. As noted above there are various types of Fats needed by the body for their various functions and as part of a balanced diet can aid in satiation and less overall calories consumed each day and may therefore aid in weight loss.

All types of fats can be included as part of a heathy diet within the guidelines mentioned above.

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