What Are Fats?

What are fats?

Fats, formed from different combinations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, are a very concentrated form of energy for the body, providing more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates per gram. All fats fall into a family of chemicals known as lipids.

Some other fat facts are:

  • Fats are technically referred to as triglycerides.
  • Fats are incapable of being dissolved in water.
  • Fats can be either solid or liquid.
  • All fats are composed of the same chemical elements, just arranged differently
  • All fats are composed of fatty acids and glycerol.

Types of fat

America is experiencing an obesity crisis, and this has prompted considerable research into fats and our diet. There are many competing claims about what fats to eat, and avoid, as well as arguments over the beneficial and harmful effects of fats. Studies may be inconclusive about the finer points, but the evidence is clear that maintaining a lean body mass is consistently preferred to being overweight.

That said, here is a breakdown of the fats:

Saturated Fats

animal fat
dairy products
lard
chocolate
palm kernel oil

Polyunsaturated Fats

nuts
seeds
fish
algae
leafy green vegetables

Monounsaturated Fats

red meat
whole diary products
nuts
olives
avocados

Trans Fat

margarine
hydrogenated vegetable oils
photo of young girl flexing her muscles
Fats are essential for proper growth.

Where is body fat tissue stored?

Abdomen, hips and buttocks (abdominal fat)
Around the heart (epicardial fat)
Just under the skin (subcutaneous)

Why do we need fats?

Fats are essential for proper growth and maintenance of energy stores in the body, and are incorporated into many transport systems in the body.

How are fats digested?

Fats are broken down by enzymes such as lipase in the upper part of the gut and, with the aid of bile salts, are transported through the bowel wall for further processing.

How much fat is recommended in our diet?

Doctors recommend that fats should provide 25-30% of our total daily energy intake, with saturated fats providing no more than 10% of daily energy intake. However, the average intake of fat in the U.S. exceeds the recommended percentage.

Excess saturated fat intake may lead to obesity. In addition, excess fat intake may lead to high cholesterol levels and subsequent hardening of blood vessels, which is an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke. More recent research has linked fats and cholesterol with certain types of cancer including colorectal cancer.

A sensible diet and regular exercise will help maintain optimal weight and normal cholesterol levels.