Benefits of unsaturated fats & protein in a diet

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Benefits of unsaturated fats & protein in a diet
Seafood products are the best sources of low-fat protein. (seafood image by Dušan Zidar from Fotolia.com)

Fat and protein are macronutrients, or substances the body needs in high doses to assist with its normal cellular and metabolic functions. Each of these nutrients plays a specific role in maintaining your overall health, and a balanced diet includes a variety of sources of each. Unfortunately, many foods that are high in protein are high in saturated fat, a specific type of fat that can lead to cardiovascular risk. By substituting protein sources that contain unsaturated for saturated fats, you can prevent such risks.

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Benefits of unsaturated fats

The body needs fat to produce hormones, transport vitamins and provide energy. Dietary fats exist in many forms, however, and some can be harmful to the body. Saturated fats can raise your blood cholesterol levels and ultimately result in cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fats, however, can help lower your blood cholesterol when you substitute them for saturated fats.

Benefits of protein

The body needs protein in the diet to promote energy, repair and replenish damaged tissue and help produce red blood cells. All of the body's cells are composed of protein and all of the body's fluids contain protein, as well. Consuming sufficient protein in the diet, especially during youth or when pregnant, will promote maximal growth and help prevent illness. Athletes and physically active people need to consume plenty of protein to stimulate muscle growth and to repair damaged muscular tissue.

Sources

Fish and other seafood contain significant amounts of protein and are full of unsaturated fat. One fillet of cod, for example, contains 21 g of protein and no saturated fat. The fat in cod and most seafood exists in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, two types of unsaturated fats that can reduce cardiovascular risk. Soy products are also high in protein and contain unsaturated, rather than saturated fat. Lentils and whole grain wheat can provide protein without the saturated fat, as well.

Fat and protein guidelines

A maximum of 35 percent of your total calories should come from fat, says the Food Standards Agency. No more than 11 percent of your total calories should come from saturated fat. Trans fat, another type of fat that increases your cardiovascular risk, should be restricted to 2 percent or less of your total calories. Adults should eat 55 g of protein daily.

Foods to avoid

Red meat, fatty dairy products and fatty cooking oils are the main culprits in a diet high in saturated fat. Try to replace red meat with fish whenever possible, and opt for non-fat dairy products. Avoid frying meat, and avoid using tropical oils when cooking meat products. Palm, coconut and cocoa butter can tack on saturated fat, so replace them with canola, olive, sesame or soybean oils.

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