Fat Fat Fat – What is Fat?

Lipids (fats) are commonly blanketed together and blamed for obesity and there is much confusion with regards to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats. While fast food and highly processed packaged foods contain excessive and unnecessary amounts of fat, there is an important place for fats in a balanced diet. So what are fats, where do they fit into a healthy diet, and why are they important for growing bodies?
In relation to their chemical structure, fats can broadly be classified as saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are usually from animal sources and solid at room temperature (think of butter or the firm white layer that forms over refrigerated, leftover cooked meats!). Unsaturated fats are usually from plant sources and often liquid at room temperature (like flaxseed and olive oils). Excessive intake of animal fats has been linked to poor health outcomes later in life such as heart disease, whereas unsaturated fats can play a protective role. Some researchers have even focused on links between unsaturated fats and children’s behaviour and brain function.
Various fats are essential for nervous system structure and are important components of cell membranes and hormones. Some vitamins are fat soluble; this means they are found in fats and also actually require fats for digestion, absorption and transportation around the body. The high energy density of fat provides energy for growth, and excess fat is stored in adipose cells providing a rich source of accessible energy allowing us to survive without food for weeks, even months. Structural fat pads protect organs and nerves from injury and shock and fat pads on the palms and buttocks protect bones from mechanical pressure.  Plenty of good reasons to avoid eliminating fat from our diets! Important dietary sources are oily fish, dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds and those odd-ball fruits like avocado. To avoid excessive fat intake, it is important to choose lean cuts and trim visible fat from meat; deep-fried foods and baked goods such as pies and pastries should only be eaten occasionally.
There is no one nutrient ‘responsible’ for the current obesity epidemic. Rather, it is the total sum of energy consumed being greater than that burned up. As always, the message remains the same. Be a role model for your little ones, lead by example enjoying a balanced diet rich in fresh whole and minimally processed foods. Fast food and highly processed packaged foods should be minimised; they are energy dense and nutrient poor, not much bang for your buck when it comes nutrition value.
The last few weeks we have refreshed our knowledge or become newly acquainted with the three macronutrients; carbohydrate, protein and fat. Next week Nourish Nutrition and Dietetics will show you how to put it all together with the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Missed a week? All our articles are available on our ‘Nutrition at home’ webpage.  Contact Andrea at dietitian@nourished.net.au with comments or feedback.
Andrea Cruickshank APD AN

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