Food as Medicine: Fats


Fats. It is a word the strikes fear into most people with eating disorders. Why? Because for some reason ED seems to think that eating an avocado or drizzling some olive oil on our salad will result in massive weight gain due to the fat content of these foods.  Today though we are going to change that thought process and challenge ED as we uncover the truth about fats, an important macronutrient that plays a crucial role in our diets.

Fats (or if we want to sound all scientific, we can call them lipids) come in all different unique varieties. I mean think about a food label for a second. You’ll see saturated fats, trans fats, and unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all listed. But though all of these lipids are unique in their own special way,  there is one thing they all have in common – they are triglycerides.  Now I am pretty darn sure the term “triglycerides” sounds familiar. Maybe you heard your science teacher droning on about them or you could have possibly caught your doctor spitting out the word while speaking in medical jargon. No matter where you heard it, I am sure you are just dying to know what on earth triglycerides are. Well, triglycerides is just a fancy shamcy word for the lipids that mostly make up the fat content in our foods. Each type of triglyceride has a glycerol base and then has three fatty acids (which are the building blocks of triglycerides) attached to them.  Now the type of the fatty acids attached to the glycerol base determines the type of lipid. Sometimes the fatty acids attached to the glycerol have single carbon bonds, allowing all of the carbons to be bound to a hydrogen. This is called a saturated fat because all of its carbon bonds are saturated with hydrogen. Because of the structure of the saturated fat, they are heavy and dense which allows to be solid at room temperature.  Now unsaturated fats, as you may have guessed, are not saturated with hydrogen. They actually have some carbons that contain double bonds so the hydrogen can’t pack itself in there. Depending on where the double bond is located on the fatty acid determines whether or not the fat is considered polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. A monounsaturated fat would have one double bond between the carbon atoms while a polyunsaturated would have more than one double bond between the carbon atoms. Since hydrogen isn’t stuffed into these types of lipids, they are a little more flexible. This flexibility they possess allows them be less dense thus meaning they will be liquid at room temperature.

Notice how the unsaturated fat model has a kink in it.  This allows it to be more flexible.
Notice how the unsaturated fat model has a kink in it. This allows it to be more flexible.

Ok, take a deep breath. I am now done with all that brain boggling chemistry. Now that we now some of the general structure of some fats, let’s figure out what on earth the role fats play in our diets.  Fats are actually a super concentrated source of energy and when your body doesn’t have enough glucose, it turns to fat as a back-up. Fat also helps out with the absorption of certain nutrients as well as provides protection around vital organs and helps with temperature regulation. Lastly, believe it or not fats are what form the fatty center of our cell membranes.  So, yeah, fats have some important occupations in our body and notice that NONE of its jobs is to make us fat.

 So now let’s go back to the different types of fats I talked about. You know that one paragraph where I rambled on and on about the structure of triglycerides? You hear a lot in the media about fats and which ones you should or should not eat? But there’s a heck of a lot of conflicting information out there. I mean, take a look at the Atkins Diet for goodness sake. They say it’s A-OK to eat a jug of lard if you do so chose and hey we all know that lard is stuffed with nothing but saturated fat.  And of course there are folks way on the other side saying that even eating a morsel of fat will sabotage your weight-loss efforts. So what is a person to do? What are you to believe? Well, let me break down the current knowledge for you. At this moment, it is recommended that we limit our intake of items with saturated fats. Saturated fats are usually found in a lot of animal foods and studies have shown that eating saturated fats in excess can result in some cardiovascular problems.  I am not saying you have to give up your cheese, just don’t eat a block of it a day! Unsaturated fats on the other hand have been shown to stabilize cholesterol levels and reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and even fish!

good fats

So hey what do you know! Fats aren’t bad for you at all! They play a ton of important roles in bodies and we need to eat them in our diet to achieve maximum health. That doesn’t mean though you can chug a bottle of olive oil or eat a 1 lb bag of almonds. You just need to eat fats in moderation, like ANY OTHER FOOD GROUP.


5 thoughts on “Food as Medicine: Fats

    1. Its sad that the word “fat” is the same of as the name of “fat” – an extremely important macronutrient. I will admit, I still find really scary too. I writing these posts though have helped me realize the fact that my fear isn’t really that rational. I hope they help you as well 🙂

  1. Pingback: Dietary Fats |

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