Deconstructing dietary fats and why our body needs good fats
FAT, the most dreaded word today, has many connotations. Flab or actually the lack of it, has become a yardstick to measure one’s physical fitness, while one’s appearance is defined by the sculpted bodies of actors and models. Most of us despise being called fat and no matter how many campaigns we run to promote body positive messages, deep down, no one wants to fall into that category.
In dietary terms, fat describes a class of macro nutrients used in metabolism. Also called triglycerides, they make up one of three classes of macronutrients including proteins and carbohydrates. Fats provide a means of storing energy for most eukaryotes, and also act as a food source.
THE ROLE OF FAT
Fats are often blamed for many of our health problems but just like good and bad people, there are good and bad fats too. Fats constitute an important part of our dietary needs. Our body requires the good ones for different body functions including providing us the energy to go on. “Without knowing, we consume fats everyday through the food we consume. Whether it’s the chips that you much on, the butter you generously apply on your pav, or peanut oil that you use to make your bhaji, everything has fats in it. You need to recognise those that do good to your body and refrain from consuming the ones that have artery clogging capabilities,” explains city-based nutritionist and sports dietitian Zarreena Akhtar. She urges that you must never give up having fats completely because if your body is lacking in them, it might cause health complications.
GOOD VERSUS BAD
When asked how can one recognise good and bad fats, Akhtar stresses that intake of fats in food is directly linked to your cholesterol levels and heart health. “Typically, fats are categorised in two parts — saturated and unsaturated. While saturated fats do more harm than good to your body, unsaturated fats are known to benefit you in many ways. Unsaturated fats are further divided into polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, which not just cut down the effect of bad fats by removing them from the body but also keep your cholesterol levels in check. They also minimise the risk of heart ailments,” quips Akhtar.
She further adds that omega 3 fatty acids aren’t produced in your body, hence you must consume food that is rich in it — like fish oil, almond, walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, chia seeds, tofu, spinach, squash, mustard seeds, red lentils etc. “Omega 3 fatty acids must be a part of your diet. If you are taking them in the form of supplements, they are of no great help. Unless you suffer from a cardiac disorder, sticking to the natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids is advisable,” urges Akhtar.
Coming back to saturated fats and trans fatty acids aka the bad fats, Dr Debashish Dutta, general physician, says that a lot of people think that excessive fat intake leads to obesity but apart from weight again, saturated fats cause cholesterol, hypertension, liver ailments and blockage in heart. Saturated fats are found in both animal products and vegetables. “Be cautious while consuming mutton, chicken, high-fat dairy products and certain kinds of eggs. Also, we Indians tend to use oil generously in cooking which results in colon and prostate related diseases in men. Use mustard, coconut or palm oil, ghee sparingly in your diet. Avoid trans fat found in fried food, bakery products like cookies and icings, chips and wafers, packaged snacks, popcorns and so on,” he warns.
HOW FATS WORK
Dutta advises that it is important for people to be aware of what they are eating and read food labels while buying food from the supermarket. “When you are buying packet foods, read the food labels carefully. Always opt for items that have lesser saturated and trans fats values in them or best avoid packed food as much as possible,” he adds.
Talking about how polyunsaturated fats help our body, Akhtar says, “For a proper brain function, omega 3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fats is essential. They It prevents neurological issues as well as depression. Another type of polyunsaturated fats, omega 6 fats, available in sunflower, soybean, sesame oils, nuts etc, is known to decrease the risk of cardiac disorders.”
Dutta says that bad cholesterol being one of the most common but dangerous lifestyle disorder, it is important to replace harmful saturated and trans fat with monounsaturated ones in diet. “Use of olive or canola oil is a good way to add this healthy fat in your diet. Peanut oil is also beneficial. Nuts and avocados are great sources too,” says Dutta.
Unsaturated fats serve as energy sources for the body, help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, support cells walls and so on.