Fat is needed by the body for energy, to make hormones such as testosterone in men and oestrogen in women and to keep the body warm. Fat provides twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates and protein. Excess dietary fat is stored in fat or adipose cells, and excessive body fat results in obesity, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.
Fats are made up of fatty acids - saturated and unsaturated. Fats that are high in saturated fatty acids such as the fat around a piece of steak or chicken remains semi-solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature, and depending on the level of hydrogen bonds are categorised as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Canola, olive and peanut oils are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, while corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower oils are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Trans fat and cholesterol
Trans fatty acid is formed during the processing of unsaturated fatty acids to make stick margarine and shortening, which are used to made patties, pies, tarts, cookies, French fries, chips and cookies. Cholesterol is made by the liver and thus is found ONLY in animal foods and their products. These foods include egg yolk, beef, chicken, shrimp, lobster and animal milk. Cholesterol is NOT found in plant products because plants don't have a liver.
Some manufacturers advertise their margarine, peanut butter and vegetable oils as 'cholesterol free' to take advantage of the uninformed consumer. Likewise, ackee, avocado, an coconut milk and coconut oil are cholesterol free, but have high levels of saturated fatty acid that have similar properties to cholesterol hence large amounts are not healthy for the heart.
Patties and ice cream
Fat in some foods are hard to detect, hence providing lots of fat in the diet. These foods that have 'hidden fat' include ice cream, hot dogs, sausages, whole milk, French fries, cakes, biscuits, patties, tarts and pies. Fat intake should be less than 30 per cent of total daily calories, 10 per cent of fat should be from saturated fat, and less than 300mg of cholesterol.
Dietary fat can be decreased by removing skin and visible fat from all animal flesh, skim off fat from soups and stews; use less oil, margarine, butter; use low-fat or skimmed milk when preparing meals. Check nutrition facts labels for the presence of animal fats such as bacon, chicken, beef, ham fat; lard; butter; cream; nuts; egg or egg yolk solids; partially hydrogenated shortening or vegetable oil. Note that on a food label, ingredients are listed by order of weight.
So if fat appears in the first five items, the item may be presumed to be high fat. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and that are free of trans fats. Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, peas, beans and whole grains which are fat free. The body needs fat, but make the healthy natural choice that is low fat.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.