Fat is a major component of diet. It is one of the main nutrients in our diets along with protein and carbohydrate. Fats are a concentrated source of energy. 1 gram fat gives 9 kcals. Agreed! But, the fact remains, all fats are not evil! Dietary fats are essential for maintaining good health. Along with being concentrated source of energy, they carry fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E, K in foods that we eat and thus help their absorption, which otherwise would be thrown out as waste from the body and not be utilized. Fat is a structural component of the body. Our brain is made up of fats as well, to be precise 60% fats!!
Thus fat is required for various physiological processes and bodily functions to occur including growth and development.
“Fats from our diet are bad, they make you fat!” Most of the times we get to hear this statement from random people or some advertisements promote such imbalanced views. We get to hear this because those people are unaware about the facts of dietary fats and such advertisements are generally sponsored by companies which sell products such as ‘fat burner’ capsules, powders etc. so that their products are sold on a larger scale. The notion that ‘all fat is bad’ is wrong. There are some types of fats from diet, if consumed in higher amounts, definitely, will lead to health hazards. While there some fats, which when consumed in moderation help to keep us healthy!
Are there really good and the bad fats? Let us learn about the various types of fats. Broadly the dietary fats are divided into two categories: - saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are mainly present in animal products. For e.g. in red meats, pork, chicken, milk and milk products, butter, margarine etc. They are also found in vegetable oils but in lower amounts.
Saturated fats if consumed in excess can lead to clogging of blood arteries as they lead to an increase in bad cholesterol level, LDL, triglycerides thus is risk factor for heart disease. It may cause weight gain in the form of fats in the body leading to being overweight and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for a myriad of health issues and diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance etc. Hence their consumption should be in small quantities only.
Trans fatty acids are the once which are present in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. The regular vegetable oil are chemically processed to increase their shelf life. This process is either complete/partial hydrogenation.
Studies have revealed that trans-fats adversely affect blood lipids (LDL, HDL, and Total Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels) and is a potential risk factor for developing cardio vascular diseases.
This fat is much cheaper than the regular vegetable oils, with more shelf life and thus present in bakery goods such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, cream filled pastries etc. and other readymade food products such as cream filled candies, some types of margarines, fried foods, frozen desserts, and sweets. Hence avoid the consumption of such food products or keep the same to as less as possible. Also, avoid using this type of fat for adding into/cooking foods at home or anywhere else.
Always check for the nutrition facts label and buy products which are trans-fats free.
So yes! Bad fats does exist and those are trans-fats so beware of them and don’t let them cast their spell on you… Also restricting on saturated fats is recommended as high amount in your diet can causes havoc in your body!!
Now is the turn of healthy fats, the Unsaturated Fats:-
Unsaturated fats are found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts and oilseeds, grains, and oily fishes. These are further divided into monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
MUFAs are found is avocado, nuts, olive oil, groundnut oil, mustard oil and canola oil. It is healthy for our body and it may help in lowering our bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and thus is helpful to avoid the risk of heart diseases.
PUFAs are healthy fats as well. Replacing saturated fats in the diet with PUFAs help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in blood. They are categorized as N-3 (Omega- 3) and N-6 (Omega- 6) PUFAs.
Omega 6 fatty acids are found present in vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, soya bean oil.
Omega 3 fatty acids are of special importance because they are essential to carry out many important functions in the body and exhibit a lot of health benefits when consumed in required amount. They may help prevent heart disease and stroke, they are powerful antioxidants and thus help in controlling inflammation in the body. They are found in fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, herring etc. Vegetarian sources of omega 3 include walnuts, flaxseeds, wheat germ, un-hydrogenated soya bean oil and canola oil.
But remember, anything in excess is bad! There is a daily recommended amount given for total fat consumption based on your body’s requirement. Hence even the healthy fats should be consumed keeping in mind these recommended levels.
Dietary Recommendations for Fats: -
According to USDA dietary guidelines, 2010, the total fat intake in the diet should be 20 – 35% of the total calorie requirement for the day. This means the calories obtained from fat should make up for 20-35% of the total calories that an individual is required to consume in a day.
However the saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of the total calorie intake while the rest of the fats should be MUFA and PUFA. Intake of trans-fats from industrial sources should be avoided.
Some European organizations suggest the calories coming from trans-fat must be less than 1 % of the total calorie requirement of the day.
All these percentages include the visible as well as the invisible sources of fats. Visible sources are oils and or any other fat such as butter, purified butter etc. used for cooking or added to foods. While, invisible sources include fats coming from foods such nuts and oilseeds, natural foods such as grains, eggs, meat, fishes etc. and the food products biscuits, other bakery goods, chips etc. (if at all eaten, that is!).
To know more about the exact quantity of dietary fats to be included in your daily diet, you should consult a registered nutritionist/dietician.