Truth about Fats

Mar 03, 2009
In our cholesterol-phobic society, the word fat is associated with numerous diseases from heart disease to cancer. And though unhealthy diet with excess of fat is indeed a risk factor for many diseases, misconceptions about fats often abound. Should you really avoid fats by all means and is it so harmful to include fats in your diet?

Fat is a part of a balanced diet

In fact, we need fats for normal functioning of our bodies, because fat is an essential source of energy. Fats also contain such vitamins as vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D and vitamin K that are necessary to maintain good health. These vitamins are fat-soluble and if your body lacks fat, you may develop deficiency of these essential vitamins, which have a protective function against injures and temperature changes.
Fat provide the sensation of satiety and gives the necessary energy as it has twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates. It is also important to note that during certain periods of time, like illnesses, loss of appetite or energy, fat serves as an unmatched resource of additional energy to the body.

Not all fats are equal

Not all fats are bad for you and some are absolutely necessary for your health. All fat can be divided into four basic types:

Saturated fats - these fats can be found in meat, butter, milk, cheese, ice-cream, egg yolks, chocolate, coconut and palm oil. The excess intake of saturated fats increases the level of bad cholesterol and is associated with the risk of developing heart disease and obesity. Unless you are a vegetarian, you can limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet, eating lean meat or low-fat dairy products.

Monounsaturated fats are good when eaten in moderation. They are found in olive oil, peanut butter, avocado and nuts. Monounsaturated fats lower the level of bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Also these fats are rich in vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant that helps in preventing cell damage from free radicals.

Trans fats are made from vegetable oils through a process known as hydrogenation to turn them into solid fats. Trans fats are found in baked food like doughnuts, pastries, biscuits, crackers, margarines, French fries and other fried food. Trans fats are probably the worst type of fats, mostly associated with numerous health risks, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer's disease and infertility.

Polyunsaturated fats are linked to some health benefits, like reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. These fats are also known as essential fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Food like fish, especially fatty fish like trout, tuna, salmon, herring, fish oil and seafood are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acid is found in sunflower oil and safflower oil, seeds and nuts.

Though saturated fats and trans fats are considered to be "bad" fats, you do not need to exclude them entirely from your diet, but you should reduce their intake to a minimum. All fats should be eaten in moderation with the prevalence of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which means around 65 grams per day for women and 90 grams for men, who have fairly sedentary lifestyle. Active people may need more fat as they burn more calories.

Low-fat diets are not good for fertility

Women, preferring low-fat dairy products are less likely to get pregnant, according to the Human Reproduction study. The study found that women, who had two or more servings of low-fat dairy products such as low-fat milk or low-fat yoghurt a day, had the increased risk of infertility caused by anovulation. On the other hand, women, preferring high-fat dairy products like whole milk or ice-cream, had 27 percent lower risk of anovulatory infertility.

Fats are necessary for your brain

Fats are important for normal brain functioning. This especially refers to essential fatty acids found mainly in oily fish. They contribute to the growth of neurons and increase the connections between them. If you are deficient of such essential fatty acids as Omega-3, you may experience such symptoms as fatigue, difficulty to remember things and complete common tasks. Several studies showed that Omega-3 fatty acids protect you from depression, hyperactivity, ADHD(attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and Alzheimer's disease.

Children should not be on low-fat diets

Fats play a significant role in the development of children. Despite the numerous concerns about child obesity, low-fat diet is not the best option for children. Children need more energy than adults and balanced diet with all three basic food groups are vital to their development, according to the Nutrition Journal. Scientists say that children need around third of calories from fat in comparison to around a fifth of calories for adults. Also children, who are confined to low-calorie and low-fat diets , tend to overeat to compensate for the lack of calories, which may lead to obesity.