Nutrient Supply Energy to our Body : Fats and Cholesterol

Fat is an important source of energy for the human body. It supplies 9 calories per gram of fat consumed. Although it is a crucial source of energy, it is important (for health concerns) that we put a limit on the type of fat and total fat we consume.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the amount of fat in the average American diet was about 30% of the total daily calories, whereas now it has increased to a number between 40 and 45 percent. This increase has been largely due to the greater consumption of cooking oils, salad dressings, vegetable shortening, and hydrogenated fats. The average American eats 155 grams of fat per day, much more than necessary.

Currently, most authorities on nutrition advocate a diet in which the calories provided by fat are NO MORE THAN 30% OF THE TOTAL DAILY CALORIES. For a person on a 2,000 calorie diet this would be about 67 grams of fat.

In the Far East, the amount of fat in the diet is about 1/4 that of the American diet. It is for this reason they enjoy much lower heart disease and colon cancer rates. Much of the fat we consume comes from obvious sources: butter, oils, salad dressings, and fatty meats, but 2/3 of the fat we consume comes from "hidden sources". These hidden sources are commonly; whole milk, ice cream, luncheon meats, avocados, olives, nuts, cheese, and chocolate among others.

Fats are composed of fatty acids and glycerol. Fatty acids are long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached to them. If all the potential spaces for hydrogen atoms are filled, it is called a saturated fatty acid (filled with hydrogen). If there is TWO empty spaces on the chain that could be filled by hydrogen atoms it is called a monounsaturated fatty acid. If there is room for MORE THAN TWO hydrogen atoms, the name polyunsaturated fatty acid is used. All natural foods contain a mixture of these fatty acids.

Saturated Fatty Acids

Most saturated fatty acids are solids at room temperature. They are found mainly in meat. Other sources include: whole milk, cream, butter, cheese, chocolate, and coconut and palm oil. Saturated fatty acids are known to raise the blood cholesterol and are considered prime contributors to the development of atherosclerosis.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

These fatty acids are found in peanuts, peanut butter, olives and olive oil, margarine, vegetable shortening, and most nuts. They also can elevate the cholesterol level, but not to the degree of the saturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

This group is usually liquid at room temperature. They are abundant in plant oils such as: corn, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower oil. This group is thought by most nutrition experts to be most favorable of the fatty acids (with regard to the acceleration of atherosclerosis).


Cholesterol is a yellowish, wax-like substance closely related to fat and is obtained ONLY from eating animal products. Some foods particularly high in cholesterol are red meats, lobster, shrimp, oysters, liver, kidney, veal, lamb, crab, beef heart, and egg yolk. It is a normal part of our cell structure and provides a structural building block for bile acids, vitamin D, sex hormones, and adrenal gland hormones. If there was no cholesterol in the diet our body would produce the necessary quantities for proper functioning. Cholesterol is best known for its contribution to the build-up of material on blood vessels walls known as atherosclerosis. This is the major contributor to the development of heart attacks and stroke.

Cholesterol, insoluble in water, is carried in the blood stream by a protein. The combination of the two is known as a lipoprotein. It has been demonstrated that people with elevated levels of some lipoproteins, HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), have a decreased risk of coronary artery disease. In fact the ratio of the blood cholesterol to the HDL is a much more important indicator of relative cardiac risk.

Recommendations for Fat Consumption

  1. Reduce your total intake of fat. All fats, whether unsaturated or not contain the same number of calories per gram (9).
  2. Omit high cholesterol foods, especially meat, and lower your consumption of eggs to two per week.
  3. Keep alert for the "hidden fats", they account for 2/3 of your total fat intake. Read food labels.
  4. Avoid foods containing coconut oil, palm oil, or completely hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  5. See your physician regularly to have your blood cholesterol and HDL levels tested. Some patients with elevated blood cholesterol will benefit from treatment with special medications (Mevacor) to lower the blood cholesterol.

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