What Is Fat

The word “fat” means several different things and its relationship to health is often misunderstood. In fact, fat has been  demonized as a bad macronutrient in the past years so much that this legacy remains to this day. Even now, when people give nutritional advice related to weight loss or weight control, fats get a bad rap and it is often recommended that fats should be avoided and replaced with low-fat or no-fat substitutes.

Fat does not make you fat! How much of it you eat and what kinds of fat you primarily eat will determine if you’ll get fat.

What is causing the obesity epidemic in North America is the high consumption of low-fat and no-fat processed foods people are told to eat.

Dietary fat is vital for our health and well being. It has to be a part of our diet and you can consume a substantial amount of fat. It is the type of fat you eat that makes the difference.

For example, on the island of Crete a place where the traditional Mediterranean diet is the main type of a diet, people consume as much as 40 percent of their calories in fat, yet they have very low rates of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. And, they are not obese!


What Is Fat

It may surprise you, but fat is a subset of nutrients known as lipids. Commonly the term “fat” refers to all lipids. In reality there are 3 classes of lipids that are important in nutrition.

  • triglycerides (fats and oils; commonly called fats)
  • phospholipids
  • sterols

The predominant type of lipid in our foods and in our bodies are triglycerides (95%). When a fat molecule (triglyceride) is broken down it becomes

  • one molecule of glycerol
  • and 3 molecules of fatty acids

A fatty acid is an organic acid. It is a chain of attached carbon and hydrogen atoms that has an acid group (COOH) at one end and a methyl group (CH3) at the other end. Generally, fatty acids have a chain of an even number of carbon atoms, ranging from 4 to 28 carbon atoms.

An Example Of Fatty Acid
fatty acid

A human body requires fatty acids. With the exception of two, our bodies can make all the fatty acids needed. The ones that we cannot make are called essential fatty acids and they are:

  • omega-6 fatty acid
  • omega-3 fatty acid

Because we cannot make them we have to make sure that they are a part of our diet.

Why Having Fat In Your Diet Is Important

In our bodies fats function at different levels. The main functions of fat are:

  • It is the main source of metabolic energy
  • It functions as carrier of fat-soluble vitamins, A, C, E and K
  • It is required for our cells (cell membranes) as well as some functions of our cells.
  • It makes the food taste good. You may not think that this aspect is important. It is. No one is going to stick with a diet that does not taste good!
  • It has a positive effect on your satiety,  keeping you full longer

Daily Recommended Intake Of Fats

According to the CDC (Centers For Disease Control And Prevention) the values in table below represent the daily recommended intake of fats.

daily recommended intake of fats


Each gram of fat provides 9 calories. Based on CDC’s recommendation an adult who takes in 1500 calories per day should consume 33 to 53 grams of total fat daily. The nutrition labels on food products can help you determine how many grams of fat are in your favorite foods.

In this article I gave you a brief introduction to what is fat, namely what is dietary fat, the function of fats in our bodies, a brief chemical description and the daily fat recommendation according to CDC.

In the next series of articles we’ll take a look at the 4 types of dietary fats, benefits of dietary fats and the ways they enhance our health and well being, the sources of “good fat”, how to avoid the “bad” fat and the risks of too much or too little fat in our diets. As well, the low-fat / fat-free “solution” is going to be challenged.


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