Fat is one of the major nutrients that our body obtains from the food that we eat. Besides other things, fat is the main source of fuel of our body. It is the main storage form of energy in our body.
Fats 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, fats are one of the essential nutrients required by our body in small amounts.
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. One gram of fat gives you up to nine units of energy.
Besides supplying energy, fats 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.
Fats belong to a group of substances called lipids. Though they are essential to your body, they can be dangerous to your health, if you do not show discretion in consuming your fatty foods and maintaining their normal blood levels.
Types of Fats
Saturated Fats – also called the Bad Fats
Saturated fats are so called because the carbon atoms are totally saturated with hydrogen. They are solid at room temperature. These are the fats that raise your blood cholesterol, which then gets deposited on the arterial walls causing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases.
That is why these fats are referred to as the “bad fats”.
Food Sources of Saturated Fats
Naturally occurring saturated fats are commonly found in :
- Animal sources of saturated fats: Lard, red meat, organ meat, poultry skin
- Dairy sources of saturated fats: Whole milk dairy products like cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream.
- Plant sources of saturated fats: Coconut oil, coconut milk and palm oil used in coffee creamers, toppings, cakes, and cookies. Kernel oil and cocoa butter used in chocolates.
Unsaturated Fats – also called the Good Fats
In the structure of unsaturated fats, you will find that fewer hydrogen atoms are bound to carbon atoms.
These fats generate less energy than saturated fats. 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 of unsaturated fats
- Vegetable oils like canola oil and olive oil
- Fish especially Salmon
- Meat contains both saturated and unsaturated fats.
These are unsaturated fats, which have undergone the process of hydrogenation. In this process, hydrogen is added to the monounsaturated fats to increase its shelf life and to convert it from its liquid form to solid form, so necessary for the food industry.
As a result, though unsaturated, these trans fats behave in the body as saturated fats.
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 levels (bad cholesterol) in the blood but also decreases the HDL levels (good cholesterol) in the blood.
Food Sources of Trans Fat:
- French fries
- Butter crackers
Body fat is the fat that is accumulated in adipose tissue stores (fat stores). Part of it is found around the internal organs in the chest and abdomen and offers protection to the organs.
Body fats are either subcutaneous or visceral
- Subcutaneous fat (fat present under the skin) is the fat found on the thighs or the hips and seen more in women.
- Visceral fat (surrounding the organs of the body) is fat such as belly fat found around the abdomen.