What are fats?

Fat is one of the major nutrients that our body obtains from the food that we eat. Besides other things, fats are the main source of fuel for our body. It is the main storage form of energy in our body.

They are compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, which are soluble in organic solvents, but insoluble in water. Though the reputation of this nutrient has touched a new low, it is one of the essential nutrients required by our body in small amounts and performs important functions.

Most of the food nutrients fall into three main groups. They are protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

Fat is the richest stored source of energy for the body. Its one gram gives you up to nine calories (units of energy).

Besides supplying energy, they also have other functions. For example, certain vitamins are only fat-soluble and are absorbed by the body only with the help of fats. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

They belong to a group of substances called lipids. Though they are essential to your body, they can be dangerous to your health if their levels in the body remain high. You should show discretion in consuming your fatty foods and maintaining normal blood levels.

Types of Fats

Not all fats are bad. You also have those that are good for your heart health and some that increase your risk of heart disease.

1. Saturated fats – Bad ones 

Saturated fats are so called because the carbon atoms are totally saturated with hydrogen. They are solid at room temperature. In excess, they raise your blood cholesterol, which then gets deposited on the arterial walls causing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases.

That is why they are referred to as “bad fats”.

Food Sources 

Naturally occurring saturated fats are commonly  found in :

  • Animal sources: Lard, red meat, organ meat, poultry skin
  • Dairy sources: Whole milk dairy products like cheese, butter, ice cream, and sour cream.
  • Plant sources: Coconut oil, coconut milk, and palm oil used in coffee creamers, toppings, cakes, and cookies. Kernel oil and cocoa butter are used in chocolates.

2. Unsaturated Fats – Good fats

In the structure of unsaturated fats, you will find that fewer hydrogen atoms are bound to carbon atoms.

This type generates less energy than saturated type. They are usually liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on their chemical bonding.

Although they help in lowering blood cholesterol, they should be taken in moderation due to their high-calorie content, which can increase your weight.

Food sources 

  • Vegetable oils like canola oil and olive oil
  • Fish especially salmon
  • Nuts
  • Avocado
  • Meat contains both saturated and unsaturated fats.

3. Trans Fats

Trans fats are actually unsaturated, which have undergone the process of hydrogenation. In this process, hydrogen is added to the monounsaturated fats to increase their shelf life and to convert it from their liquid form to solid form, so necessary for the food industry.

As a result, though unsaturated, these trans fats behave in the body as the saturated type.

Trans fat is the result of the food processing industry and has now been confirmed to be a high-risk factor as far as cardiovascular disease is concerned.

Not only does it increase the LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) in the blood but also decreases the HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) in the blood.

Food Sources:

  • Cakes
  • French fries
  • Donuts
  • Butter crackers
  • Cookies
  • Popcorn.

Body fat

Body fat is accumulated in adipose tissue stores (fat stores). It is a connective tissue that extends throughout your body.

Body fats are either subcutaneous or visceral

  • Subcutaneous fat (present under the skin) is found on the thighs or the hips and is present beneath the skin. It is more in women.
  • Visceral fat (surrounding the organs of the body) also called belly fat is found around the abdomen between the internal organs
  • It is even present in the inner cavities of bones (bone marrow adipose tissue).

The main function of body fat is to store energy and release it when necessary and to provide insulation to the body organs.

It is also a part of the endocrine system. It serves as an endocrine organ capable of producing biologically active compounds that control metabolic homeostasis.