Fat Facts: Part 1

By Amy Campbell | December 18, 2006 10:26 am

Every now and then, it’s a good idea to dust off the cobwebs and refresh your memory about certain things. This week, I thought it might be a good idea to remind you of a few facts about one of the key nutrients in our diets: fat! I chose fat because the winter holidays are upon us, and this is traditionally a time for overindulgence in fatty treats.

Close your eyes and picture one of your favorite holiday
dishes—chances are you’re not thinking about sugar-free Jell-o topped with fat-free Cool Whip. No, perhaps you’re thinking about eggnog, potato pancakes, plum pudding, roast goose, pumpkin pie…and come New Year’s Day, you might also be thinking about how your pants feel just a little too tight and how your blood glucose levels were a little difficult to control over the past few weeks.

Fat is both a boon and a curse, particularly when it comes to diabetes. We need fat to stay healthy, and some fats are good for us. Also, fat makes food taste good. But there’s a darker side to fat, too. This week we’ll look at fat in a general sense, and in my next entry we’ll focus on how fat impacts diabetes control.

Why do we need fat? Fat is a source of stored energy for the body, for one thing. Usually, we draw on glycogen (a form of carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles) for most of our energy needs. But sometimes we burn up that glycogen, either through exercise or by eating less carbohydrate than usual. Our bodies may then shift to burning fat for fuel. Fat also provides insulation to the body so that we don’t get too cold (or hot); acts like a cushion, protecting all of our internal organs from damage; and is needed to help absorb certain nutrients during digestion, such as fat-soluble vitamins.


Fat contains 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrate and protein contain 4 calories per gram. That’s why fat can be so, well, fattening. Loading up on high-fat foods can spell trouble in terms of maintaining or trying to lose weight.

How much fat should we eat? Most dietary guidelines recommend that around 30% of our total daily calories come from fat. This boils down to anywhere from about 45 to about 85 grams of fat a day, depending on how many calories you need. Some people need more fat, some need less. In case you have a hard time picturing grams, visualize a pat of
butter—that’s what 5 grams of fat looks like.

Fat impacts our heart health, too. By now, you’re probably aware that some fats aren’t good for us because they can raise blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat, found in foods such as butter, red meat, and whole-milk dairy foods, and trans fat, found in some shortenings, margarines, and processed foods, are the culprits. They increase LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, thereby increasing a person’s chances of getting heart disease. On the flip side, monounsaturated fat (found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, and avocadoes) and polyunsaturated fat (found in foods such as corn oil, soybean oil, and fatty fish) can lower a person’s chances of getting heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

In my next blog entry, we’ll take a closer look at how fat impacts diabetes control, so stay tuned.

Source URL: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/fat-facts-part-1/

Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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