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Fat 101

“Fat” is probably one of the most dreaded words in our culture.  While our eyes may light up when we smell a juicy steak or see an apple pie, we’re warned to steer clear of those tempting foods before they leave a deposit – right around our waistlines.  But wait.  Isn’t some fat good for our bodies?  Because navigating through the wealth of nutritional information available today can be tough, here’s a primer about the role of fat in good health.  Just call it “Fat 101”.

Our bodies need fat in order to work right.  Fat gives us energy and helps us absorb vitamins.  It protects our internal organs from injury.  Without fat, we wouldn’t grow properly or stay healthy.  At the same time, at 9 calories per gram compared with about 4 calories per gram in protein or carbohydrates, fat is very high in calories.  So, how do we know when to choose fat and when to stay away?

The answer lies in what kind of fat and how much of it we eat.  Healthy fats are unsaturated, which means they stay liquid at room temperature.  A form of unsaturated fat that is especially heart healthy and can even help lower high triglycerides in our blood is omega-3 fatty acid.  “Omega-3s” can be found in fish like salmon, sardines, albacore tuna and rainbow trout.  They are also in soybean products, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil.  While omega-3s are no “magic bullet”, they do offer health benefits throughout our lives.  Studies have shown that omega-3s can help prevent some types of heart disease, lower triglycerides, reduce chronic inflammation, and promote healthy aging.

Unfortunately, the typical American diet is low in omega-3s.  In fact, it’s estimated that only 25% of us consume any omega-3s on most days.  That’s partly because the typical American diet involves eating a lot of fast food that contains high amounts of saturated fat and little to no omega-3s. Fortunately, fish oil or flaxseed oil can be purchased as an over-the-counter supplement for those who don’t eat many foods that are high in Omega-3s.

So, the verdict is in.  Omega-3s are an important type of fat found mainly in fish and fish oil supplements. These special fatty acids are a necessary part of a diet promoting overall health and fighting heart disease.  While all fats are high in calories and should be consumed sparingly, these are the best of the lot and come with exciting benefits that can help us live a longer and healthier life.