In Health: Fats, not fear

Fats are needed to keep cells healthy, provide energy and absorb specific vitamins. They also play a role in your immune system.

  • Apr. 2, 2017 5:00 a.m.
In Health Joyce Chang

In Health Joyce Chang

Fats are associated with images of obesity, tipping scales, and for many, fear.

For years, fat in food has been blamed for all things bad. Is there any truth to that? What is so terrible about this macronutrient?

Fats are needed to keep cells healthy, provide energy and absorb specific vitamins. They also play a role in your immune system.

Fats have the most energy out of the three macronutrients, at nine calories per gram.

Fats in our food are divided into saturated, unsaturated, or trans fats.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature: butter, palm oil, fats from animal meats, and dairy.

Unsaturated fats are mostly liquid at room temperature. These fats can be found in vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish. Unsaturated fats include omega-6 and omega-3 fats, both essential for the human body.

The third type, trans fats, are present in small amounts in both animal meats and vegetable oils.

Health Canada states that the largest source of trans fats comes from processed foods, such as baked goods, vegetable shortening, chips, and hard margarine.

A chemical process called hydrogenation used during manufacturing changes the structure of some fats, making them more shelf-stable.

According to Health Canada, however, both saturated and trans fats increase ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood, while trans fats also decreases ‘good’ cholesterol. This imbalance can stiffen blood vessels and even block blood flow. Hardened or blocked blood vessels can lead to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.

Heart disease has been one of the top causes of death in Canada since 2012, per Health Canada.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada suggests healthy lifestyle choices to lower your risk of heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, not smoking or abusing alcohol, and eating a healthy diet.

While certain foods are denounced as evil and other foods as miracle workers, the overall diet is more important.

For example, Dietitians of Canada points out that although it is good to cut down on saturated fat, replacing it with processed carbohydrates defeats the purpose.

The 2016 guidelines by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society recommends substituting saturated fat with unsaturated fats and keeping total saturated fat to less than nine per cent of your daily caloric intake, as this can lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.