01 February 2011


What is Fat?

Fat is one of the major nutrients that serves as the major source of calories in our body. One gram of fat means 9 calories. This is twice the amount supplied by any other nutrient like carbohydrate or protein. Fat, in our body, has many roles, one of which is storage of essential vitamins like Vitamin D and Vitamin A. Fat is found in a large number of foods. Fat is one of the most important nutrients that our body needs, as it plays a major role in the body's growth and development. However, excess intake of fat can cause obesity and several diseases.
Obesity in India has spread like an epidemic in the 21st century and has affected at least 5% of India's population. Experts believe it is the genetic susceptibility of the Indians to weight gain. A study shows Punjab has the highest percentage of obese people. Also, the percentage of patients suffering from heart diseases is also quite high in India. It has been estimated by W.H.O that by 2010, 60 % of the total cardiac patients in the world will be Indians.

Role of Fats

Fats already have a bad reputation for leading to weight gain however, fats in our body are essential for survival. Some of the important functions of fat are as follows:
  • Fat is useful in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K in the intestines.
  • Fat also helps in the development of brains by providing the structural components of cell membranes, myelin, and the insulating sheath of nerve fiber.
  • Fat molecules also release energy.
  • You know you are suffering from fatty acid deficiency when you have flaky dry skin. Presence of required amount of fat gives way to a healthier skin. It also acts as the body insulation by regulating the body temperature.
  • Fats are also important for the proper functioning of the cell, as they constitute a vital portion of the cell membrane.
  • Fats also contribute in the formation of hormones as they form the structural components of several body substances like prostaglandins. They also regulate sex hormones production.
  • Also, fats play as protective cushion as they form a layer of cushion around the delicate and vital organs like heart, kidneys, and intestines. Fats hold firmly in place and protect from external injuries.

Types of Fat

The classification of dietary fats is based on the difference in the chemical composition. The different types of fatty acids of fats are listed below:
  • Saturated fats - These are the only fatty acids which raise the blood cholesterol level.
    Sources: meats, dairy products like ice cream, cheese, butter, milk, and cream, and palm kernel oil.
    Control Methods: The saturated fats in our diet can be reduced by intake of skimmed milk, lean meat and low fat dairy products.
  • Unsaturated Fats - These are normally in the liquid form at room temperature. Excessive intake of foods containing monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids can lead to weight gain Sources: Vegetable products, oils.
    Control Methods: Less oil and consumption of vegetables, fruits, pasta and cereals can help you stay in shape.
    Exception: tropical oils like palm kernel oil or coconut oil which contain saturated forms of fatty acids.
  • Cholesterol -This is an essential fatty acid synthesized by the liver. Additional cholesterol is supplied by intake of certain food products. However, excessive intake may lead to rise in the blood cholesterol level and even cause heart disease Sources: Meat and dairy products.
    Control Methods:To keep your cholesterol level on check you should go for a regular screening, eat foods with low cholesterol, exercise, and maintain proper weight.
  • Trans Fats - The conversion of liquid oil to solid fat leads to the formation of Trans fats. This conversion reaction is called hydrogenation. These fats tend to increase the cholesterol level. Sources:processed foods like chips and crackers; bakery products like cookies, cakes and muffins; French fries, and stick margarines
    Control Methods:Excessive consumption of foods containing hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil should be avoided.

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