We just finished Valentine’s Day 2013 and if you were like me you stuffed yourself silly with lovely, high fat chocolate treats with no apologies. My husband took me out for a romantic dinner where I had a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing (on the side) and grilled salmon with a fried potato pancake and chocolate lava cake with ice cream for dessert! What! I know and I am a Registered Dietitian, so of course I should know better. This meal was at least 4000 calories. This is equal to enough calories for three or four days’ worth, presuming you average intake is 1200-1400 calories per day, in one evening meal and how much of that is fat, I would guess at least 50%. Why would I do that to myself and what happens in my body to all the fat that is ingested, and more importantly, what are types of fat? These are all great questions that most people cannot answer so let’s find the latest information on fats.
What happens to fat in the body?
All food is chewed up in the mouth and swallowed into the esophagus where digestive enzymes start breaking down the carbohydrates as digestion continues in the stomach. Strong muscles move food along the digestive tract where more digestive enzymes are added and continue to break down carbohydrates and proteins. As the food bolus moves into the small intestine digestive enzymes from the liver, intestine, and pancreas begin to digest fats. Bile acids produced by the liver along with cholesterol continue to break down and reformulate them into small molecule fatty acids which move into the cells for redistribution in the body. Some fat gets redistributed in the chest veins and arteries and other fat molecules get placed into storage sites around the body such as the belly, hips, thighs and buttocks. Whoa!
Are there Good and Bad Fats?
Is there such a thing as a good fat?
Yes, if you enjoy soft skin, fat absorbing Vitamins such as A, E, D, & K and need a fuel source to stay alive. Unsaturated fats are considered good fats and we find these in foods such as sunflower and safflower vegetable oils among others. These are known as polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat as well as avocados, nuts and seeds. These foods along with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains make up the Mediterranean diet. In the news there is much controversy over the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Plant sources contain omega-3 fatty acids, but not to the same degree as fatty fish like salmon, when it comes to lowering cholesterol and triglycerides for heart health. Food and not supplements have been shown to be the best source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Is there such a thing as bad fat? Today in the United States we have an obesity epidemic.
However, it is too simplistic to just blame fats. Our economy has benefited from food corporations inventing items such as artificial trans fats that when added to processed food have been scientifically identified as damaging to the heart by raising the LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering the HDL (good) cholesterol. These foods are cheap, convenient and killing us. Saturated fats come from animal products like butter, animal skin, cream, egg yolks and others, but as bad as these are, still do not do the same damage to the heart as the artificially produced trans fats.
No matter where fat in the diet comes from total fat recommendations are to eat small amounts in your diet. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends keeping your saturated fats to less than 10% of total calories per day and the American Heart Association recommends 7% per day. The recommendation for trans fats is 2% per day.
So, getting back to my delicious Valentine’s Day meal is only half the conversation. I get to enjoy eating out on special occasions because I balance this with staying active every day. How much exercise per day you get is more important. At least 30 minutes per day of exercise to keep you steady and on your feet. Add another 30 minutes for health maintenance and if you are over 50 years add another 30 minutes for weight loss. It is okay to spread out the exercise over the entire day. Finally, don’t forget to strength train your muscles twice per week. Balancing the food intake equation with exercise allows me to splurge once in a while and enjoy that Valentine’s Day meal.