Last Updated on Dec 20, 2014

Introduction to Fats

Fat along with protein and carbohydrate are essential nutrients for normal body function and for maintaining our well-being. We all need fat, but consuming fat worries us and there is a fear associated with it. This fear is not without a reason as it is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol issues.

Susie Orbach said - ĎToday, ''fat'' has become not a description of size but a moral category tainted with criticism and contempt.í

If you are trying to lose weight or if your recent blood tests reveal elevated cholesterol levels, you are likely to shun away fat and completely avoid the visible fat intake (butter, ghee and oil) from your diet. However it is interesting to note that fat provides 9 calories per gram, compared to the 4 calories per gram of carbs or protein.

A balanced diet requires some amount of dietary fat however if you are obsessed and avoid fat altogether you could be taking it too far as you could be triggering physical and mental health issues. In a couple of months you would lose weight, but along with it your skin could lose lustre, you could experience poor memory and hair fall. Fat is a pillar of nutrition and you simply canít completely delete it from your diet. Dietary fat provides energy, protects organs, maintains cell membranes, and helps the body absorb nutrients and provides essential fatty acids that play a crucial role in the optimum functioning of the body.

Avoid ĎThe Fat Fearí Ė Eat Good fat and Avoid Bad Fat Despite the bad reputation surrounding fats, fat isnít always our enemy in waistline wars. More than the amount of fat, itís the type of fat you eat that matters as there are good fats and bad fats.

Dietary fat can be classified into four groups:

  • Saturated
  • Monounsaturated
  • Polyunsaturated
  • Trans

Fats, such as trans-fats and saturated fats, are guilty of the unhealthy tags and lead to shooting up of cholesterol levels and the risk of certain diseases, whereas good fats like monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) protect your heart and support overall health.

For this reason a balanced diet like the Mediterranean diet is particularly popular as David Perlmutter says Ė ĎThe Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables while low in sodium. It is also enriched with olive oil, high in antioxidants as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.í

Remember good fats have a lionís share in helping you manage your moods, fight fatigue and even control your weight and lipid levels.

1. Depression:

A diet that lacks essential fatty acids may affect your mental health including mood and behaviour. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders has linked low essential fatty acid intake to depression. Omega 3 fats are considered as brain food as they aid in normal functioning of the brain cells.

2. Increased Cancer Risk:

Low intake of essential fatty acids has been correlated with colon, breast, and prostate cancer. If your diet lacks healthy fats, you could significantly increase your risk of cancer.

3. Vitamin Deficiencies:

Eating a diet too low in fat can interfere with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which play a role in as growth, vision, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting. They also assist in keeping our hair and skin smooth and healthy.

4. Heart Related Disorders:

When your diet is extremely low in fat, the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) levels go down. HDL transports Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) deposited in the arteries to the liver where it can be reprocessed to bile acids. Higher LDL levels put you at risk of a heart attack as they narrow the artery walls that may cause a blood clot. When the HDL and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) ratios get out of balance, an increased risk of heart disease and cholesterol levels are inevitable.

5. Overeating:

Fat imparts flavour to food. It also promotes a sense of satiety i.e. you feel full for a longer duration after eating a meal or snack that contains some amount of fat as compared to eating a no-fat meal. Thus when fat goes missing, you may have an urge to eat more.

Opting for low-fat or fat-free foods at the grocery store, could be hampering your weight-loss efforts. Many of these foods contain added sugar to make it taste on par with full fat products, making them similar in calories to full-fat products. People tend to believe these foods are "freebies" and overeat these foods with the notion that they''re healthy or low-calorie, thereby increasing their calorie consumption which would lead to piling the extra kilos.

Eating very few calories can hamper your weight-loss efforts. Similarly, a diet too low in fat can have negative impact on your overall health.

So clearly the answer isnít cutting out the fatóitís learning to make healthy choices and to replace bad fats with good ones that promote health and well-being. Thus, just because a few berries in the box are bad you wonít throw the box away, similarly, some fats are bad for us (like trans fats) but donít go on a zero-fat or oil-free diet to achieve your weight-loss or health goals.

How Much Total Dietary Fat Do You Require?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends:

  • Less than 10% of calories should come from saturated fats.
  • Keep the total trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible and avoid synthetic sources of trans fatty acids such as hydrogenated oils.
  • Replace solid fats with oils as and when possible.
  • Reduce your intake of calories from solid fats.
  • Eat fewer than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.

Latest Publications and Research on Importance of Fat in the Diet

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