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Alternative namesSaturated fat; Diet - fat; Polyunsaturated fat; Monounsaturated fat; Lipids
DefinitionFats are organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; they are the most concentrated source of energy in foods. Fats belong to a group of substances called lipids. Fats come in liquid or solid form. All fats are combinations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Fats can be called very saturated or very unsaturated depending on their proportions.
FunctionFat is one of the three nutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates ) that supply calories to the body. Fat provides 9 Calories per gram, more than twice the number provided by carbohydrates or protein.
Fat is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Fats provide the "essential" fatty acids, which are not made by the body and must be obtained from food. Linoleic acid is the most important essential fatty acid, especially for the growth and development of infants. Fatty acids provide the raw materials that help in the control of blood pressure , blood clotting, inflammation, and other body functions.
Fat serves as the storage substance for the body's extra calories. It fills the fat cells (adipose tissue) that help insulate the body. Fats are also an important energy source. When the body has used up the calories from carbohydrate , which occurs after the first 20 minutes of exercise, it begins to depend on the calories from fat.
Healthy skin and hair are maintained by fat. Fat helps in the absorption, and transport through the bloodstream of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Side EffectsEating too much saturated fat is one of the major risk factors for heart disease . A diet high in saturated fat causes a soft, waxy substance called cholesterol to build up in the arteries. Too much fat also increases the risk of heart disease because of its high calorie content, which increases the chance of becoming obese (another risk factor for heart disease and some types of cancer ).
A large intake of polyunsaturated fat may increase the risk for some types of cancer. Reducing daily fat intake is not a guarantee against developing cancer or heart disease, but it does help reduce the risk factors.
Children under two years of age should NOT be on a fat restricted diet because cholesterol and fat are thought to be important nutrients for brain development.
It is important to read the nutrition labels and be aware of the amount of different types of fat contained in food. It is recommended that everyone over 20 have their cholesterol checked. Talk to your health care provider about how to cut down of your fat intake and to have your cholesterol checked.
Update Date: 9/3/2002A.D.A.M. editorial (9/3/02). Previous review: Poune Saberi, M.D., M.P.H., Family Practice and Community Medicine. University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network (11/20/01).
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT