What Are the Functions of Lipids and Fats?

What Are the Functions of Lipids and Fats?

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Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, benefit your cardiovascular health.

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Lipids, a chemical family that includes cholesterol and fat, make up a major part of the average human diet. At 9 calories per gram -- compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins -- fats serve as concentrated sources of energy to fuel your active lifestyle. However, beyond boosting your energy intake, fats and cholesterol have a number of other physiological roles, and eating certain types of fat benefits your health.

General Functions

Energy-rich fats provide fuel for your day-to-day functioning. Fatty tissue also acts as insulation to help regulate your body temperature, and fat cushions your organs to protect them from damage. Your body also relies on fat to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins dissolve in fat droplets in your digestive tract, and then your body absorbs those fat droplets so you can reap the benefits of both their lipid and vitamin content. Blood cholesterol -- a type of cholesterol that's produced by your body and circulates in your bloodstream -- helps you produce hormones and vitamin D.

Lipids and Your Heart

Unsaturated fats -- a type of fats found in fish and in plant-based foods, such as nuts, avocados and olive oil -- lowers your blood cholesterol levels, especially the harmful cholesterol that contributes to heart disease. On the other hand, saturated fats -- the type of fat found in meat, dairy products and eggs, as well as tropical plant oils -- increase harmful blood cholesterol levels and, as a result, increase the risk of heart disease. The cholesterol found in animal-based foods can also increase harmful blood cholesterol in those who are sensitive to it, and pose an additional health risk.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have several beneficial functions, and prove important to good health. Your body can't make these types of fats, so you need to get them from your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids regulate inflammation in your body, and, as a result, they might benefit people suffering from inflammation-related conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. They also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and promotes healthy brain function. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and fatty fish -- helps prevent the depression, diminished brain function, dry skin and poor circulation caused by omega-3 fatty acid deficiency.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids also play a role in your health. Like omega-3 fatty acids, you need to get omega-6 fats from the foods in your diet, but the average American diet already provides enough omega-6s, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. The omega-6 fatty acids in your diet promote skeletal health, and nourish your skin and hair to help you look your best. They also promote healthy brain function, and help treat nerve pain associated with diabetes. You can find omega-6 fatty acids in meat and Brazil nuts, as well as vegetable oils, including corn and safflower oil.

Intake Guidelines

Fat should make up between 20 and 35 percent of your calories, according to guidelines from the American Heart Association. This translates to between 44 and 78 grams of fat daily, based on a standard 2,000-calorie diet. If you suffer from heart disease, limit your fat intake to less than 30 percent of your caloric intake, or 67 grams a day in a 2,000-calorie diet. Get most of your fat intake from unsaturated fats, such as seeds, nuts and olive oil, and incorporate fatty fish, such as salmon, into your diet as sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Restrict your saturated fat intake as much as possible. It should not make up more than 10 percent of your diet -- 22 grams, if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet -- or 7 percent if you suffer from heart disease or high cholesterol, advises the American Heart Association. You should also limit your cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily, or 200 milligrams if you have high cholesterol or heart disease.


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