There was a time when health enthusiasts used to look down upon fats and (all) fatty foods. However, fortunately, scientists have now found out that not all fats are bad for health; in fact, some fats are essential for our health and life. Earth’s Wisdom takes the opportunity of throwing light on some of the fat facts that are necessary for our health.
Why are Fats Essential?
All foods available naturally around us contain at least some amount of fat because all plants and animals need fat as the primary source of energy. Fat is also required for growth and functioning when there is a scarcity of food supply (or sunlight in case of plants). It’s enough to know the importance of fat that in humans, fat is an essential part of the cell membrane as it is made from lipoproteins (lipo = fats).
Role of Fat in Our Health
Source of Energy: We all know that fats are rich in calories (9 calories per 1 gram of fat) and therefore fat is an excellent source of energy.
Proper Function of Nervous System: The axons of our neurons are covered by a layer called myelin sheath which is made of 80% of lipids. Therefore fats are essential for proper functioning of our nervous system.
Absorption of Vitamins: Vitamins are very essential for our health and they are either water soluble or fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K). Those which are water soluble are easily absorbed in water and transported throughout the body. But fat soluble vitamins need fats to get absorbed in the body.
Formation of Steroid Hormones: Fat is essential in the formation of steroid hormones which in turn are necessary for controlling metabolism, immune functions, inflammation, salt and water balance, ability to stand injury and illness and development of sexual features.
Choosing Healthy Fats
As with any other food ingredients, excess amount is bad in case of fats too. It’s also a fact that there are good fats and bad fats. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines by the US Department of Agriculture recommend that 20% to 35% of calories should come from fats for adults. Generally for the growing problem of obesity, fats are held responsible. However, obesity is much more than overeating of a single food ingredient such as fat. Calories are gained by all food ingredients, including proteins and carbohydrates. Eating more calories, spending less of them, heredity, gender, age and lifestyle also play an important role in weight gain. However fats do contribute significantly to weight gain as they are more tempting and are easily eaten in more quantities, thereby providing more calories. Therefore we should know well about the good fats and bad fats.
Saturated and Trans Fats: These are the bad guys and come from animal products like high-fat dairy, meat, poultry and eggs and vegetable sources like palm oil. They are known to elevate cholesterol levels, clog blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease.
The other bad guy i.e. trans fats are of two types, of which natural ones are harmless, but artificial ones used in fried and baked foods, icings, crackers, popcorn etc are harmful.
Unsaturated Fats: These are the good guys and include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fatty acids. When eaten in moderation in place of trans or saturated fats they can help reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats are usually found in vegetable oils. The famous Omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of polyunsaturated fats, are known for their benefits to cardiac health. Omega-3s are found in fish like catfish, trout, mackerel and salmon, nuts like walnuts and seeds like flaxseeds. Especially those in fish, i.e. the long-chain omega-3s are the most effective.
Monounsaturated fats are found in good quantities in the Mediterranean diet, mainly in olive oil and also in hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, canola, peanut oil, pumpkin seeds, avocados and almonds. These too are supposed to reduce the risk of heart disease and mainly contain the beneficial antioxidant vitamin E.
Don’t turn away from fats altogether! Take an informed decision, choose healthy fats and live healthily and happily!
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