Fats! Can we totally remove them from our diets? If we didn’t consume fats, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to maintain a healthy weight? If only it were that simple! The fact is – our body needs fats – to the extent that we cannot live without consuming fats. We need fats to survive.
Fats are an essential component of the healthy diet. It is through them that we get the necessary fatty acids that our body cannot make on its own, fat-soluble vitamins and fuel that energizes our body. Fats keep our skin supple and soft.
All that is fine. Then why is fat associated with weight gain and health problems? How much fat should we actually consume? Can dietary fat make you fat?
To get the answer to this, let’s understand fats. Sit back and read.
Our body needs macronutrients, which are basically nutrients that bring us calories and energy. We need these for growth, metabolism and other basic body functions. Our body needs three major macronutrients and these are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each of these varies in its amount of calories.
Carbohydrates and proteins give 4 calories each per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram.
So why do we need fat to survive?
Regardless of the fact that fats have a bad reputation for their ability to add extra weight, some essential fats are necessary for survival. This means, we need about 30% calories from fat for:
- Our normal growth and development
- Our energy
- Improving Vitamin A, D, E K and carotenoid absorption
- Protecting the organs with a layer of fat around them
- Maintenance of cell membranes
- Making food tasty, consistent and stable
The fat we eat usually comes from milk products, butter, margarine, nuts, oils, grain products, salad dressings, fish, meat and poultry.
Fat is of three types: saturated, unsaturated and trans fat.
Saturated fat is usually found in foods like meat, butter, lard, and cream. Trans fat comes from baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, and margarines. Thus, saturated and trans fat raise our risk for heart disease.
When we replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats from foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and canola oil we lower our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
So, it’s a fight between good fats and bad fats. The bad fats are villains. Dietary fat has a role to play in obesity because fat is rich in calories. It is quite easy to overeat – think French fries, cakes, chocolate, ice cream, cheese and other processed foods. (Slurrrp!) When you eat too much, it is not just our waistlines that go to waste. It also leads to type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
So whose side am I on, anyway? Ah, I am just the devil’s advocate. I love my ghee and butter.
Ok….jokes aside, the important thing is to do with choosing the right type of dietary fats to eat. It is only when we eat excess fat that we get more energy than we need, and this gets stored in the body – and converts into excess weight, which leads to health problems.
Here are some fat facts for you to ponder on:
- Healthy oils like canola and olive oil are monosaturated fats that help reduce cholesterol, reduce high BP and minimize the risk for type 2 diabetes. These same oil also have the antioxidant Vitamin E that protects our eyes and keeps our skin supple and healthy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids contained in canola oil, walnut and flaxseed oils has been proven to reduce pain from arthritis, decrease triglycerides and improve cholesterol.
- Trans fat is probably the worst kind of fat. So watch that vegetable oil you are using. They raise your bad cholesterol while bringing down the good cholesterol.
So if you’re keen on reaching a good balance, here are some tips that will help you reduce overall fat and also consume the right ones:
- Opt for a diet that’s rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Go vegetarian with lots of beans at least once a week.
- Choose low fat dairy products
- Enjoy salad dressings low in fat
- Substitute fatty sauces with vinegars, mustards, and lemon juice.
- Go east on fats. Use unsaturated liquid oils, (canola or olive) rather than butter
- Reduce intake of high-fat foods, processed foods, fried foods, sweets, and desserts.
- When cooking, choose the lower-fat alternative whenever possible
So “fats” is not a four-letter word.
What do you think? Write in with your views!