Fats and carbohydrates are two building blocks of a healthy diet, but many people do not understand their role in proper nutrition. While the daily intake of fats and oils should be limited, these elements are still a vital part of the diet. The key is to make smart choices when it comes to fats and oils. That means substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and using healthier, lighter oils in cooking.
Let’s look at the role fats and oils play in the diet. Fats are necessary for supplying energy to the body. In addition, fats supply essential fatty acids and act as carriers for fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K and the carotenoids. In addition, fats have an important role to play as building blocks for various tissues and membranes, and they also play a key role in regulating numerous bodily functions.
Dietary fat is available from a variety of plant and animal sources, and most diets do contain adequate amounts of fat. Most nutrition experts recommend keeping the intake of fat to less than 20% of calories, but studies have shown that severely limiting fat intake can be dangerous. Extreme low fat diets should only be undertaking with a doctor’s approval and oversight.
The type and amount of fat in the diet makes all the difference. A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol has been associated with a variety of ills, including heart disease, stroke and other associated diseases. In addition, many long term chronic problems, such as obesity, are associated with high levels of dietary fats.
The greatest risk of complications from excessive fat intake appears to lie with saturated fats and trans fats (fats that are solid at room temperature). One of the best ways to keep levels of saturated fat low is to limit the amount of animal fats that are consumed. These animal based fats include meats like bacon and sausage, as well as butter and ice cream. Dietary cholesterol can be limited by watching the consumption of eggs, organ meats and other foods high in cholesterol.
Food labels do make the complicated process of choosing the right fats somewhat easier. For instance, trans fats will be listed on the ingredient list of foods that contain them. In general, trans fats are found mainly in processed foods.
Some fats, such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, are better choices for healthy eating. Examples of these fats include canola oil and olive oil. Cooking with these lighter oils can be a big step toward a healthier diet. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and they have been found to have heart protecting qualities.
Many types of fish have also been found to be sources of good fat. Fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These omega-3’s have been found to promote good health, and they may even lower cholesterol levels.
Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet as well, and carbs are necessary for providing energy and many essential nutrients. Carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables, in grains and in milk and dairy products. It is important to choose carbohydrates carefully, however, since not all are equally healthy.
When choosing breads and cereal, for instance, try to select those made with whole grains, while avoiding the more highly refined varieties. It is also important to limit the intake of sugars, such as soda, candy and highly processed baked goods. Consuming large amounts of such high calorie, low nutrient foods, can make it very difficult to stay on a healthy diet without gaining weight.
Most Americans tend to have too much of certain elements in their diet. Sugar is one such element and salt is the other. While a basic level of sodium in the form of salt is important to proper nutrition, most people consume too much salt in their daily diet. Excess salt consumption can lead to water retention, high blood pressure and other complications. Choosing low sodium foods, and limiting the use of the salt shaker, can go a long way toward cutting levels of excess salt in the diet.