Believe it or not, a healthy body needs fats. Getting the right kind and amount of dietary fat, however, can be tricky. If you eat too much of the wrong kind of fat, you increase your risk for health problems. If you don’t get enough of the right kind of fats, your body’s optimal functioning is compromised. Making the right dietary fat choices helps promotes long-term heath and well-being.

The functions of fat in the body include:providing insulation; regulating body temperature; protecting internal organs from damage and transporting fat soluble vitamins around the body. They are also a source of energy, however what isn’t used as energy will be stored as fat. Fats are part of every cell membrane, organ and tissue in the body, however not all fats are the same and the different types can affect our health in varying ways:

‘Saturated Fats’ are usually solid at room temperature and are mainly found in animal products such as meats and dairy foods. Coconut and palm oils are vegetable sources of saturated fats.

Eating high levels of some saturated fats is linked to an increased risk of Heart Disease, High Cholesterol and some cancers.

‘Unsaturated Fats’ are fats and oils which are liquid at room temperature. They can be further divided into sub groups known as:

•          Monounsaturated Fats, of which Olive oil is a good example;

•          Polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils like sunflower oil. This sub-group also includes the Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) found in Fish oils, Flaxseed and Pumpkin seeds.

‘Trans / Hydrogenated Fats’ — is scientifically linked to many obesity related illnesses and diseases and as a result Trans fats have been banned in several countries and states across the world. They are still present in many fast food products and cakes, they should be avoided whenever possible.

The Essential Fatty Acid’s (EFA’s) are divided into two sub groups— Omega 3 and Omega 6. Alpha-linolenic acid (Omega 3) and Linoleic acid (Omega 6) are starting materials for the body to produce other EFA’s such as the more commonly known EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils, and GLA Omega 6 fatty acid found in Evening Primrose. These are in turn converted by the body into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins needed for many normal body functions.

We need around four times more Omega 3 than Omega 6 to maintain the correct balance of EFA’s in our body. Unfortunately, our diet usually contains more Omega 6’s than Omega 3’s.

A deficiency or an imbalance in the ratio of the Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can impact on health. The net result is an inability by the body to convert the starting material EFA’s into the forms it needs to maintain healthy functions.

An example is the role EFAs play in the function of blood clotting.

The Omega 3 fatty acids are involved in body processes to keep blood fats from becoming too sticky, this is why Omega 3 fatty acids are associated with helping to prevent heart disease. Conversely Omega 6 fatty acids are involved in the blood clotting response which stops us bleeding to death. A balance of both is required to ensure normal blood clotting.

Omega 9 fatty acids are most commonly found in olive oil and can be referred to as Oleic acid, these fatty acids are monounsaturated

‘Prostaglandins’ – Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances made in the body from essential fatty acids. They control many key functions such as, brain function, hormonal balance, skin health, controlling inflammation, reducing blood viscosity which in turn improves oxygen and nutrient delivery, aerobic metabolism and the release of growth hormone.

Understanding the differences between good fats and bad fats is the key to making better food choices that support your heart health and weight management while reducing your risk for chronic disease. Check food labels to ensure you’re avoiding foods packed with saturated or trans fats. Consume less than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats whenever possible. Eliminate trans fats from your diet.

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