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Dietary fats explained

Fats are organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They are a source of energy in foods. Fats belong to a group of substances called lipids and come in liquid or solid form. All fats are combinations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Fats can be called saturated or unsaturated depending on their proportions.

Fat is one of the three nutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) that supply calories to the body. Fat provides 9 calories per gram, more than twice the number provided by carbohydrates or protein.

Fat is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Fats provide essential fatty acids, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food. The essential fatty acids are linoleic and linolenic acid. They are important for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, and brain development.

Fat serves as the storage substance for the body's extra calories. It fills the fat cells (adipose tissue) that help insulate the body. Fats are also an important energy source. When the body has used up the calories from carbohydrate, which occurs after the first 20 minutes of exercise, it begins to depend on the calories from fat.

Healthy skin and hair are maintained by fat. Fat helps in the absorption, and transport through the bloodstream of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

The types of fat

Eating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. A diet high in saturated fat causes a soft, waxy substance called cholesterol to build up in the arteries. Too much fat also increases the risk of heart disease because of its high calorie content, which increases the chance of becoming obese (another risk factor for heart disease and some types of cancer).

A large intake of polyunsaturated fat may increase the risk for some types of cancer. Reducing daily fat intake is not a guarantee against developing cancer or heart disease, but it does help reduce the risk.

Recommendations

It is important to read the nutrition labels and be aware of the amount of different types of fat contained in food. It is recommended that everyone over 20 have their cholesterol checked.

Talk to your health care provider about how to cut down your fat intake and to have your cholesterol checked.


Review Date: 6/28/2011
Reviewed By: Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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