The skinny on fat

butter frying
Butter frying

With the New Year and the surplus of diet and exercise advertising that accompany it, many of us turn our focus to healthy eating — often focusing on fat.

Fat is an important nutrient. It is critical for proper growth and development and maintaining normal health.

Fat has 9 calories per gram, which the body uses as stored energy. Fat also acts as an insulator for tissues, a cushion for vital organs and an important part of cell membranes.

The skinny? Without fat, our bodies would not function properly, and cells would not be able to do their everyday operations.

Nearly all foods contain fats. Even carrots have trace amounts! All fats play a role in health, and all are OK to eat. You just need to consider the amount you eat.

There are three main types of fats on a food label: saturated, unsaturated and trans. Each of these fatty acids is a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen attached.

Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature (like butter and coconut oil), while unsaturated fats will remain liquid (most oils).

In addition to unsaturated and saturated, there lurks trans fat. Trans fat is naturally occurring in some meat and dairy products, but in the past century food companies started to produce artificial trans fats.

Artificial trans fats, like margarine and shortening, are created when a type of vegetable oil is artificially saturated with hydrogen atoms. The process is cheap, and the products are easy to work with.

For majority of the 20th century, these shortenings were considered healthier than saturated fats; however, research now confirms the shape of these hydrogenated fats are even worse for our health due to the unnatural trans configuration. Ideally, an adult should consume 0–2 grams per day. The average American eats about 6 grams of trans fats a day.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, state that 20–35 percent of an adult’s calorie intake should consist of fat. Of this range, no more than 10 percent should be from saturated fats, which are found mainly in meat and whole milk dairy products such as ice cream, milk and cheese.

The remaining 10–25 percent of fat should be unsaturated fats. Of these unsaturated fats, it’s of upmost importance to incorporate omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Both of these are essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by the body and therefore must be incorporated through food.

Good news: There are numerous foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 at the Mill City Farmers Market! Some great sources include ground flaxseed, eggs, wild-caught salmon, grass-fed meat products, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread and whole grain cereal.

Healthy fats like these are critical to the body as they contribute to blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain and protect against heart disease. They have also been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve blood vessel function. High doses have even shown to decrease inflammation and lower triglycerides.

You can stock up these foods and more at the upcoming winter markets on Jan. 13 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. inside the Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St. Learn more and browse healthy winter recipes at


Recipe courtesy of the Mill City Farmers Market

Serve with grass-fed steaks, wild salmon filets or roasted vegetables. Makes 1/2 cup.


  • 3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Finely chop the rosemary. Combine it with the butter, honey, pepper and salt and mix well. Serve at room temperature.