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Why is fat an essential nutrient?

The past two weeks of the shape up challenge we have talked about the importance and benefits of proteins and carbohydrates. Now it is time for us to talk about the last, and often most overlooked, essential nutrient, fat. It may seem strange that fat is considered an essential nutrient because most of us are trying to get rid of fat, so it seems only logical to cut it from your diet. The key is to be eating the right kinds of fat and avoiding the wrong kinds. But don’t worry, we will talk all about that in just a minute.

Why fats are good

There are many health benefits that come from eating the right amount of the proper fats. Certain fats boost the health of your heart and decrease the risk of heart disease. Fat helps to relieve joint pain and reduce muscle stiffness. Some types of fat are beneficial to insulin levels and help control your blood sugar; this is especially important if you have diabetes.

There are some vitamins that need the help from fat to dissolve into the body and provide the nutrients they contain. Fat also helps to maintain healthy looking skin, hair, and nails.

There are some studies that show that fat can decrease the risk of breast cancer in women, reduce cholesterol levels, reduce belly fat and assist in weight loss.

One great thing about fats is that when you eat the essential fat you can eat just a small amount and feel fuller for a longer period of time than you would if you ate most other foods (especially carbohydrates and foods with empty calories).

The good vs the bad

There are four major types of fat: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the good fats because they are vital for growth, healthy skin, absorption of vitamins, and regulation of bodily functions. Plus they are good for your heart and your cholesterol.

Saturated fats and trans fat are the bad fats. They are the fats that give all other fats a bad name. They clog your arteries, raise your cholesterol, and put you at risk for several diseases. So its a good idea to eat these very sparingly.

Examples of each

Here are a few examples of each of the fats so you know what fats to avoid and what fats you can eat guilt free (however, still sparingly).

Monounsaturated fats: This type of fat is found in a variety of foods and oils such as avocados, nuts, peanut butter, and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fat: This fat is mostly found in plant based foods and oils such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout), soymilk, and tofu.

**Remember that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are often liquid at room temperature.**

Saturated and trans fat are typically solid at room temperature. Saturated fats mainly come from animal sources. Example include: butter, cheese, and ice cream. Trans fats mostly come from processed foods like doughnuts, chips, candy bars, and fried foods.

It’s important to remember that trans and saturated fats shouldn’t be cut out all together because if we deprive ourselves of certain things we are likely to fail (remember what we talked about in  week three?).

The key to success in your nutrition is to find the proper balance of what you should and should not be eating. It’s always a good idea to find a good website that will help you track your food intake so you can tell how much of each nutrient you are getting and can make adjustments from there. 


If you are not a part of our 12 week shape up challenge, this is the nutrition article for week eleven of the challenge. Click here to join.

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