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What Are Fats Broken Down Into During Digestion?

by
author image Melodie Anne
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.
What Are Fats Broken Down Into During Digestion?
A bottle of olive oil and olives on a wooden table. Photo Credit hiphoto40/iStock/Getty Images

Fats are an essential part of your diet; they help regulate body temperature, aid in hormone production, help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and several other functions. In order for your body to utilize fat for these functions, it has to be digested into a simpler, less complex molecule. During digestion, fats are broken down into fatty acids or cholesterol and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Digestion of Fats

Fat molecules are large and complex. Bile acids from your liver first dissolve fat into minuscule compounds. Then, pancreatic and intestinal enzymes break the molecules down further into fatty acids or cholesterol. At this point, bile acids jump in again, combining with the fatty acid or cholesterol molecules, allowing them to absorb into intestinal lining called mucosa. After they pass through, they reconstruct into larger molecules and absorb into lymphatic blood vessels near your intestine, where they disperse into veins in your chest or deposit as fat throughout various areas of your body.

Fatty Acids and Cholesterol

Ingesting fats provides essential fatty acids that are required for everyday functions, but are not made in your body. Some of the fats you consume digest and breakdown into linoleic and linolenic acid. These types of fatty acids help control inflammation, support normal brain development and allow blood to clot normally. Cholesterol is a fatty substance you need for producing hormones as well as giving strength and structure to cell and artery walls. While you need some cholesterol in your body, everything you need is produced in your liver. Any additional cholesterol you consume either builds up on artery walls -- a condition called atherosclerosis -- or is broken down and excreted.

Types of Fat

Some types of fats are better for you than others. Limit saturated and trans fats in your diet. These unhealthy "bad" fats increase your total cholesterol, boost harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol and raise your chances of having heart disease. Trans fats are particularly bad for you since they not only raise your LDL levels, they also decrease high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, in your blood. HDL is the "good" cholesterol that plays a role in ridding your body of excess LDL cholesterol. Replacing these harmful fats with beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or MUFAs and PUFAs, can improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and ultimately lower your risk of heart disease.

How Much

Since fat has so many important roles in your body, ensure that about 20 to 35 percent of your total calories come from fat, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All fats, good or bad, provide 9 calories per gram. If your diet consists of 2,000 calories daily, you can have 44 to 78 g of fat throughout the day.

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