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A Balanced Diet Part VII: Fats, Oils and Sweets

We all love dessert, but we also probably eat more than we should.  Consuming fats is an important part of our diet, but the wrong amounts of the wrong types can lead to weight gain, obesity, and increased risk of heart disease.  Because of these risks, we want to consume the least amount of food in this group.  Oils and fats are different, and since sweets have lots of fats, they are included in this group.  The oils most people are familiar with include canola oil, olive oil, and corn oil, while the fats are butter, chicken fat, and stick margarine.  Sugary sweets include brownies, cookies, cakes, and soft drinks.

Oils contain essential nutrients, are liquid at room temperature, and are needed to help our bodies function.  Fats are also an essential part of the human diet, but unlike oils, they are solid at room temperature.  Fats come with more trans- or saturated fat than oils do, and it is important to be careful how much you eat.  Unsaturated fats (HDL) are healthy, but saturated fats (LDL) can lead to the weight gain, obesity and risk of heart disease mentioned earlier.  While oils and fats both contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, solid fats contain more saturated and trans-fats than oils.  Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products and should make up less than 10% of daily caloric intake.  Fats as a whole should not account for more than 30% of daily caloric intake.  Respecting this guideline is important because one gram of fat contains nine calories, which is more than twice that of protein and carbohydrates (four grams each) and makes it very easy to consume too much fat.  Sugars, even though they also have four calories per gram, bring mostly empty calories into our diets.

The food we eat fulfills most of our daily needs for oil through things such as nuts, cooking oil and salad dressing.  Even though we get oils from our food, remember that they do contain calories.  That makes checking labels and looking for options with no trans-fat and little to no saturated fat a big part of maintaining a healthy diet.  By using oils sparingly when cooking, cutting down on sugary after dinner treats and ceasing to drink sodas, you can control your intake of bad fats and sugars, while helping lower your risk for weight gain and heart disease.

To learn more about Fats and Oils, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/oils.html, and start reading labels.  Next week, we’ll cover Vegetarian Diets and look at healthy ways to eat without meat, poultry and fish.

A Balanced Diet Part I

The human body needs six kinds of nutrients to function properly, so knowing what they are and how they work is important to having a balanced diet.  In this segment, we’ll go over each of the six nutrient types, explaining what they are and how they work.  In the upcoming weeks, we’ll learn about each food group, what to eat, how much, and how often, so by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be ready to hit the grocery store armed with plenty of knowledge to ensure healthy choices.

Carbohydrates.  These are the body’s energy.  Carbs supply simple glucose, and without it, your brain can’t function properly.  You need lots of carbs for day to day life but be careful not to over indulge.  Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories, so if the expenditure of carbohydrates is less than the intake, weight gain is inevitable.  Carbohydrates are found in bread, beans, potatoes and corn, with the most common types being sugars, fibers and starches.

Protein.  Proteins, like carbohydrates, contain 4 calories per gram.  While protein can be used as a source of energy, the human body uses them primarily for moving nutrients through the body, keeping the immune system up and running properly.  Proteins help grow and rebuild muscle, maintain fluid balance, and catalyze the reactions essential to life.

Fats.  Fats contain 9 calories per gram, and as a result, are a great source of energy.  Fats also help the body absorb vitamins while providing insulation and cushion to internal organs.  There are two major types of naturally occurring fatty acids, saturated, with each molecule covered in hydrogen atoms, and monounsaturated, when each molecule has only one hydrogen atom.  Saturated fats, found in meat and dairy products, can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke if over-consumed.  Monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, whole grain wheat, avocados and popcorn, have been said to reduce a person’s risk for heart disease.  Both saturated and monounsaturated fats are essential to life.  Trans fats are not naturally occurring, never saturated, and are not essential for life.  Trans fats have been proven to increase bad cholesterol (LDL), lower good (HDL) and raise the risk of heart disease.  Trans fats are found mostly in junk and fast food.

Vitamins.  Vitamins are made from plants and animals, and each of the 13 (A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E and K) is something your body needs.  They are necessary for normal metabolism and since the human body does not produce them, vitamins must be acquired through diet or supplements.

Minerals.  Minerals, including selenium, zinc, and calcium, allow your body to get the energy out of carbohydrates and also promote good immune functioning.

Water.  Sure, water sounds simple.  You can go for weeks without eating, without eater, you’ll last only a few days.  Water is the universal solvent and provides the basis for chemical reactions to take place.  It also helps maintain body temperature and lubricate joints.

Stay tuned next week when we start learning about Food Groups with Grains.