Fat is not a four-letter word, although many still consider it a dirty word when it comes to nutrition, fitness and exercise. Those who lived through the ‘90s undoubtedly remember when the food industry marketed everything as “low-fat” in the guise that it was a healthier option. While it’s true that having high levels of body fat can be a risk factor for many types of chronic diseases, dietary fat—specifically, the right kinds of fat—is an essential component of a healthy diet.
Here are 10 things to know about fat as it relates to helping create the energy your body needs for your favorite physical activities.
The terms “fat” and “lipids” are used interchangeably when discussing how the body metabolizes energy. Lipids include triglycerides, which are formed by combining a glycerol with three fatty acids, fatty acids and cholesterol. The majority of lipids in food and the body are in the form of triglycerides. In the human body, fat can be stored in skeletal muscle, the liver and adipose tissue, and is used for many functions. This includes providing structure for cell membranes, insulating and protecting vital organs, regulating endocrine system function (how hormones are produced), helping transport vitamins and minerals around the body, and as a source of energy for many cellular functions. Fat provides approximately 70% of the energy for bodily functions when at rest and during low-intensity physical activity. Fat contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Because fatty-acid chains have more carbon and hydrogen relative to oxygen, they yield more energy per gram. Fats provide 9 calories of energy per gram while proteins and carbohydrates each produce 4 calories per gram. There are different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated fatty acids contain hydrogen on the carbon bonds. Because the body can produce these fats on its own, there are no dietary requirements for the consumption of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats contain double carbon bonds with fewer hydrogen molecules. Fatty acids with one double carbon bond are called monounsaturated, while fatty acids with two or more carbon bonds are polyunsaturated. Saturated fats tend to be solid when at room temperature and can be found in animal, dairy and packaged food products in addition to coconut and palm kernel oils. A diet high in saturated fats could be a risk factor for heart disease. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fats include the essential