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By Dr. Keith E. Lewis
May 21, 2008

It is not the enemy. I think all experts, all scientists, all researchers would agree that fat is an important component of healthy diet. However, when it comes to fat, there are varying opinions. There are multiple health benefits from consuming fat especially essential fatty acids. Fat is required for hormones to be manufactured. Without fat, your hormones get out of whack. This includes the regulation of women's hormonal cycles including menopause. Men require fat for hormonal activity for high energy sex and good muscle mass. Fats are required for proper insulin function. Fat is necessary for red blood cell formation. Fats lubricate your joints. Essential fatty acids regulate the transport of oxygen and energy through your body. Essential fatty acids are essential for the formation of cells particularly in the nervous system. Essential fatty acids increase your body's metabolic rate.

There are several types of fat which may also lead to some of the confusion about fat. The following is the good, the bad, and the ugly about fat. Fats are the most highly concentrated form of energy or fuel for a body. They contain more calories per ounce than either proteins or carbohydrate. Fats come in three basic forms: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated; and today, we have identified the fourth fat. These fats are called trans fats and they definitely are the bad fats.  

The chemical structure of the fat is what determines its degree of saturation.  Most foods contain a mixture of the three basic types of fat. However, one fat usually predominates.

Saturated fats: Saturated fats come from animal products including milk and milk products and from several sources of vegetables.  Basically, saturated fats are useful only as sources of energy.

Polyunsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats are found in seeds, seed oils, and vegetable oils as well as many types of fish especially fish that live in cold water. The following are common sources of polyunsaturated: corn oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, mackerel, cod, tuna, corn, sardines, herring, and of course salmon.

Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats are found in certain vegetable oils and nut oils which are best when processed. The following are common sources of monounsaturated fats: Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and safflower oil.  Last but not least, the trans fats. The trans fats are man-made fats created by transforming unsaturated fats into saturated fats through heat and hydrogenation.  Hydrogenation turns liquid vegetable oils into solids such as margarine and shortening. The food industry likes trans fats because they extend the self life of their products. However, recent studies have shown, trans fats may cause serious harm including increased insulin production, decreased testosterone, low metabolism, and higher bad cholesterol. Trans fats are found in commercially available baked goods such as crackers, chips, cookies, pies, and doughnuts.  Trans fats are loaded in processed foods and are very, very high in the glycemic index of carbohydrate rating and of course this causes a spike in insulin levels and of course resulting in extra fat storage. To identify a trans fats, now look for the following phrases on the labels, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated -- need to stay away from these.

In summary, dietary fat is essential for you well being and attaining your ideal size. You can eat up to 30% of your calories every day as fat; less may be even better. Focus on consuming 10% of your daily caloric intake as an essential fatty acid. One cause of high cholesterol is eating too many high glycemic starches, the same foods that cause our body to store fat. Replace the low fat processed food in your kitchen with the real counterparts. Eating the right dietary fats enables your body to release fat.

If you are experiencing any signs of deficiency or any symptoms, I would recommend contacting your physician.