Oils and Fats: How Food Affects Health

Along with protein and carbs, fats are an important component of a good nutrition program. They contain more than twice the number of calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins, so a small amount of fat contributes a large amount of calories. However, fats can certainly add flavor to food — and you need some healthy fat in your diet to maintain good health, a healthy weight, and normal physiological functions.

Some healthy oils, such as olive and canola oils, are terrific sources of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, reduce high blood pressure, and lower the risk for type 2 diabetes. These oils are also rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps keep your skin beautiful and may help protect your eyesight.

Canola oil, as well as walnut and flaxseed oils, provides omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that is known to reduce arthritis pain, decrease triglycerides, and improve cholesterol levels. Omega-3s can also help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches, help protect skin from sun damage, and slow memory decline.

Saturated fats are found in few vegetable oils (palm oil and palm kernel oil are two you’ll see listed in packaged foods), but they are found in many spreads and condiments, including butter, lard, cream cheese, shortening, and cream- or cheese-based salad dressings, as well as the skin on poultry, and in certain cuts of meat. While saturated fats have been thought in the past to contribute to heart disease, as well as inflammation that can make other conditions worse, recent information has made this issue less clear cut. So, although the jury is still out on whether saturated fats are really as bad as they were previously made out to be, it’s important to not go “butter crazy” and still practice moderation until more research is done.