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Excess fat intake is a major contributor to our increasingly over-fat population. Yielding 37 kj or 9 calories of energy per gram, fat is broken down in to its simplest form (free fatty acids) before being transported directly to the fat cells. The body finds this process very efficient, using very little of the energy in the fat to store it within the fat cells.

Whilst it is commonly known that some fats are better for us than others, fats are transported directly in to the fat cells. It is then up to your metabolism to burn that fat. Hence, it is important that you closely monitor your total fat intake.

Please note that fats play an important role in normal bodily function. Some fats may actually help to promote fat loss. Due to its slower absorption rate (5 to 8 hours), fat helps to:

* Balance blood sugar levels
* Manufacture sex and adrenal hormones
* Maintain body temperature
* Transport essential vitamins around the body (vitamins A, D, E and K)

Without fat in our diet, we tend to consume more energy due to unsatisfied hunger pangs. Therefore, you should include some fat in your diet.

Through my experience, I have found that many of my clients store at least 15 to 25 kg of fat, whilst they can only store approx 500g of carbohydrate. These figures would therefore suggest that a person carrying 25 kg of fat has 50 times the amount of energy available coming from fat compared to that coming from carbohydrate. However, as one gram of carbohydrate yields 16kj or 4 calories of energy, the actual amount of energy available from fat is more than 100 times than that from carbohydrate. With this in mind, our bodies could easily afford to utilize our fat stores rather than carbohydrate stores for energy.

The quality of fat that we consume has a major bearing on our well being. Saturated fats are found primarily in animal products including beef, lamb, pork and chicken. They are also present in egg yolk and in the dairy fats of cream, milk, cheese and butter. Coconut and palm oil, vegetable shortening and margarine are sources of saturated fat from the plant kingdom and are present in a relatively high degree in commercially prepared cakes, pies, biscuits and chocolate. Saturated fats unfortunately are considered to be ‘bad’ fats because they are major contributors to coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Unsaturated fats are generally considered to be ‘good’ fats, as some may decrease the risk of disease. Fats from plants and seafood are generally unsaturated. Mono-unsaturated fats include olive, peanuts and canola oils. The body can manufacture all fatty acids from available protein, carbohydrates and fats in the diet, with the exception of three essential groups. They are:

* Linolenic acids (omega 6)
* Alpha-linolenic acids (omega 3)
* gamma-linolenic acids (GLA)

These are known as essential fatty acids (EFAs) because they must be supplied through the diet. They are necessary for healthy blood and arteries, nerves and normal growth. As they are used for structural and metabolic functions, as opposed to an energy source, EFAs are far less likely to create an increase in body fat. They have actually been proven to assist the body in burning fat more efficiently. A deficiency in EFAs can lead to impaired learning, growth and thinking abilities, due to a reduction in brain cell number and size, as well as a drop in the body’s natural testosterone production.

Essential fatty acids may reduce the risk of many diseases and actually assist in the fat burning process.

Omega 6 fatty acids are found in the oils of seeds from plants. They include safflower oil, sunflower oil, evening primrose oil, corn oil, sesame oil and flaxseed oil. These fatty acids are important for the transport and breakdown of cholesterol.

An omega 6 deficiency may cause skin eruptions, hair loss, excessive sweating, thirst, wound healing failure, arthritis and infections.

Omega 3 fatty acids are primarily found in the oils of cold-water fish such as herring, tuna, salmon and sardines. Plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids include tofu, walnuts, dried beans, lecithin and wheat germ. The molecular structure of the acids may help to prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and increase plasma HDL and decrease LDL cholesterol.

Omega 3 fatty acids are more readily burned up than other types of fat. That is, they enter the fat cells at the same rate, but come out to be used up more readily as energy than other types of fat.

A deficiency in omega 3 is not uncommon. Symptoms include dry skin, high blood pressure, tingling sensations in the arms and legs, high triglycerides, fluid retention and immune dysfunction. Therefore, it is recommended that seafood containing these oils be eaten regularly. GLAs are found in blackcurrant seed oil and evening primrose oil. They have a number of benefits including reducing body fat and decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol. Deficiencies in GLA include hair loss, swollen joints, dry skin, irritability, lethargy, infection, infertility, poor liver function and poor tissue structure.

Omega 9 fatty acids, found in olives, almonds, avocados, peanuts, cashews, land animals and butter are not essential fats. However, they are considered to be a healthy addition to the diet.

As explained, while it is important to reduce fat intake, some fats are essential for normal function. Attempting to cut out every single gram of fat from your diet will do you more harm than good, especially in terms of achieving a better looking and more healthy body shape.