Afraid Of Fat? Know Why This Macronutrient Is Important For Your Health

Afraid Of Fat? Know Why This Macronutrient Is Important For Your Health

Fat is a term that is frequently and sometimes unnecessarily defamed as a major culprit of obesity. It is often disparaged for being associated with high cholesterol, heart diseases, diabetes and much more. But the fact is, fat is an essential element of our diet for a number of reasons. But before going into the importance of fats, let’s learn some basics about this macronutrient.

Basics of Fat

Fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient containing 9 calories/gram, providing more than twice the energy what proteins and carbs offer. Since the major role of fat is energy storage, this does make sense. Dietary fat breaks down into small chains of fatty acids. These chains are packed into vessels known as chylomicrons and then transferred to muscle or tissue.

Sometimes we need energy right away, for instance taking a walk after dinner. For that, fatty acids are once again released to be taken up by muscle and cells meeting the demands of our body. If we go to bed after eating, these are stored in fat tissue until there is requirement.

In other situations, fat breakdown occurs in significant amount or when shortage of fat occurs such as after tough workout. In these circumstances, our body peeks into its own fat stores and break them down for energy, a process known as beta oxidation. This process needs glucose which is derived from protein or carbohydrates.

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Types of fat

Fat can be found in variety of foods whether natural or processed. Natural fats can be found in dairy products, nuts and seeds, meat and fish. Here are common types of fats found in foods:

Saturated fat

This fat is derived mostly from animal foods, particularly dairy and red meat. Certain oil such as coconut and palm, ghee, foods made with butter are high in saturated fat. Majority of the health organization recommend consuming less amount of saturated fat as it raises LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), a major risk factor for heart diseases. The fat consumption should be restricted to less than 10 percent.

Trans Fat

These are mostly found in processed foods such as cookies, cakes, French fries and are synthetically made to resemble solid saturated fat. This increases the shelf life of the food and allows the companies to replace it with saturated fat in their products. But according to experts, trans fats can be detrimental to your heart as it not only raises LDL cholesterol level but also lowers HDL, the good cholesterol.

Monounsaturated (Mufa) And Polyunsaturated Fat (Pufa)

These are known as healthy fats as they don’t pose the same risk as saturated and trans fat. These fats can be found in plant based foods such as nuts, olives, avocado and also fatty fish such as salmon.

Omega-3 and Omega-6

Though these fats are technically polyunsaturated fats, they deserve special mention for a number of reasons. Since our bodies cannot produce these fats, we must get these from variety of foods we eat. Both these fats play a vital role in regulating our immune system. Omega-3 in particular also helps in the development of vision and nervous system. An adult intake of omega-3 ranges from 1.1-1.6 grams a day while for omega-6 the consumption should be in the range of 12-17 grams per day.

Where omega-6 found in abundance in soybean and cornoil, omega-3 fats are little hard to get since they are mostly found in fatty fish such as sardines and salmon. However, walnuts and some vegetables such as spinach also contains decent amount of omega-3 fats.

Why we need fat?

Virtually all natural foods we eat contain some amount of fat. Fat is a life saver so much as that even we eat fat-free food, our body is able to figure out a way to make fat. Surplus protein and carbs can both be converted into fat and stored as a backup. Fat helps our body function appropriately in various ways:

  1. Maintains proper functioning of cells, nerves, organs and brain – Fat is an essential component of every cell in our body, so it plays a protective role for cell membranes. It gives cushioning to organs for our day to day living. Moreover, certain fats are crucial for maintaining the control panel of our body i.e. the brain which is composed of 60 percent of fat.
  2. Act as a fuel for day to day activities – Right from jumping out of the bed, going through workout and to sitting in front of computer, fat act a fuel that our body burn for energy.
  3. Transporting fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K – Fat help move essential vitamins through the bloodstream and absorb them into the body.
  4. Fat helps keep blood sugar level steady and makes you feel full – Fat helps in the release of a hormone Cholecystokinin (CCK) which makes you feel satiated after a meal. Also, if high fat foods are paired with high-carb foods, then it prevents upsurge in the blood sugar level. This is because fat slows digestion as well as the rate at which sugars from carbohydrates enters into the bloodstream.
  5. Energy storehouse – The extra calories we consume are converted into fat and stored for future use in special fat cells known as adipose. And whenever there is immediate requirement of energy, the fat stored in these special cells supply the needed amount.

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How much fat we should have?

According to American Heart Association, healthy adult should limit their dietary fat to not more than 20-35 percent of the total calorie intake. For example, if the daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day, if we multiply it by 20 percent, we would get the figure of 400 calories. Now divide this 400 calories by 9 (1 gram fat equals to 9 calories) you will get the figure of 44 grams of fat. In short, if your daily diet is 2,000 calories a day, the fat consumption should be around 44 grams.

Curious to know which food contains maximum and minimum amount of fats? Here are top five healthy foods high and low in fats. The focus is mainly on monosaturated and polysaturated fats since they are considered healthy.

Foods high in fat

  • Walnut (28 grams) = 185 Calories/18 grams fat
  • Peanut butter (2 tbsp) = 188 Calories/16 grams fat
  • Almonds (28 grams) = 164 Calories/14 grams fat
  • Cashew (28 grams) = 157 Calories/12 grams fat
  • Cheese (28 grams) = 115 Calories/10 grams fat

Foods low in fat

  • 1 Clove Garlic – 4 calories/0.44 grams fat
  • 1 Cup Spinach – 7 calories/0.77
  • 1 Cup Mushrooms – 15 calories/1.66 grams fat
  • 1 Cup Radishes – 19 calories/2.11 grams fat
  • 1 Cup Cabbage – 22 calories/2.44 grams fat

Bottom Line

While fat is an essential part of our daily diet, it’s as important not to go beyond limit, as its not to get too little of it. Eating too much can lead to obesity and other health problems. So restricting the daily intake to the recommended allowance will put you on the middle path and help ensure maximum benefits without any potential health problems.