The Skinny on Fats

What are fats?

Organic compounds that are (typically) insoluble in water. They can be broadly grouped as either fatty acids or glycerol esters (such as triglycerides).

What are the four major classes?

  • Unsaturated
  • Monounsaturated
  • Polyunsaturated
  • Saturated

The more carbon-hydrogen bonds a fat-compound contains, the more "saturated" it is considered to be. And the more saturated the molecule is, the more potential energy it has. When these bonds are broken down -- for instance, during digestion -- that potential energy transforms into heat or chemical energy.

What about the trans-fats?

These are commercially produced (as opposed to organically occurring) compounds that have been chemically kinked so that they don't harden at room temperature. Dieticians contend that they're more difficult for the body to metabolize than natural sis-fats.

Much hullabaloo in the news has been made about trans-fats being terrible for you. New York City (among other places) has actually banned their use in foods.

If carb consumption drives heart disease and obesity, however, banning trans-fats is going to do our society little good.

Do we need to eat fat-containing foods in our diets?

Absolutely. These compounds are important in the development of skin, bones, tissues, and hormones. Even so-called low-fat diet advocates -- on the whole -- will not advocate abstaining from fat altogether. Instead, they'll ask you to stay away from the saturated kind and to generally lower your intake.

Curiously, however, the nutritional research community seems currently obsessed with promoting so-called “good” omega 3s and other compounds found in olive oil, almonds, and fish.

But are the so-called bad fats really that bad for us? What are some fat-containing foods?

  • Meat
  • Poultry (with skin)
  • Shellfish
  • Oils
  • Butter/margarine
  • Lard
  • Fried foods
  • Nuts and legumes

Return from Fats to Glossary

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