Dietary Fats 101

‘Fats’ don’t actually make us fat.

The mere mention of the word fats makes us wary of our appearance and heart health.

You usually associate fats with some sort of a negative outcome for your body.

But did you know that fats are important for your well-being, so much so that their deficiency can make you unhealthy?!

Source: www.gifbay.com/gif/keanu_reeves_says_it_better_than_i_ever_could-31595/

Here are some important functions of fats:

  • Source of energy

Fats are one of the major macronutrients essential in our diet; the other two are carbohydrates and proteins. A gram of fat provides 9 calories of energy, the highest of all the nutrients.

  • Producing hormones

Steroidal hormones are a class of hormones that are structurally composed of fats.

Some examples of steroidal hormones are sex hormones like estrogen and androgens, and corticosteroid hormones that reduce inflammation in the body, thereby preventing many diseases.

  • Maintaining brain, skin, and hair health

Good fats boost memory retention and focus. They are also structural components of body tissues.

  • Absorbing vitamins

Adequate dietary fats enable better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A and D by the intestines.

The deficiency of fats can lead to:

  • Accelerated ageing
  • Hormonal imbalances, which result in lower libido and fertility issues
  • Inflammatory diseases like dermatitis
  • Metabolic disorders, which may cause weight gain
  • Brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
  • Hair loss and skin diseases

So, fats are not harmful for us. But how we use or abuse these fats makes all the difference!

The three types of dietary fats

Now down to the thing you’re most curious about — which are the good and bad fats? Differences arise because of their chemical structures, as fats are made up of fatty acid chains that vary.

1. Saturated fats

These are usually solid at room temperature. You should limit the consumption of these fats to 6% of total daily calories. Some research studies have linked saturated fats with heart disease, as saturated fats can raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels,

A diet high in saturated fats increases cholesterol buildup in your arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis, causing the obstruction of blood flow to the heart tissues and subsequently heart attacks.

Sources: Animal products like whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream and red meat. Some plant-based products like coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fats.

2. Unsaturated fats

These are liquid at room temperature. These fats are considered good for maintaining heart health and reducing inflammation. They are mostly found in the seeds of the plants and are of two types:

  • Monounsaturated fats

These fats help lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Sources: Nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts; olives; avocados; seeds like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

  • Polyunsaturated fats

These fats are considered very healthy. They contain many other benefits apart from lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats are of two major kinds: omega-3 and omega-6.

Omega-3 fats are important for brain development and cognitive health. They are also healthy for your skin, hair, and eyes.

Sources: soybean oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, and seafoods like fishes and oysters.

Omega-6 fats boost levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or ‘good cholesterol’, and also keep your blood sugar levels normal.

Sources: egg yolks, meat, canola oil, sunflower oil.

3. Trans fats

Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fats that are consumed in two forms: artificial and natural. These are naturally found in the meat of ruminant animals like sheep, goats, and cows. They are also formed artificially in industries by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils to increase the shelf life.

Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease.

Sources: processed foods that are sold in packaged forms like baked cookies, potato fries, and instant noodles.

Fat intake for a healthy diet

Now you know that not all fats are bad. So, you should limit your intake of the unhealthy ones (saturated fats and trans fats) and replace them with a recommended dose of good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats).

YOU can choose to incorporate better choices in your daily routine to maximize the benefits of dietary fats:

  • Include nuts like almonds, walnuts, peanuts and seeds like sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds in your regular diet.
  • Cook food in plant-based oils like mustard oil, sesame oil, and olive oil.
  • Limit your intake of animal-based products like cheese and butter. Choose skimmed milk over whole milk.
  • Replace red meat (like beef, pork, and lamb) with white meat (poultry and fish).
  • Include eggs and fatty fish in your diet as these are healthy sources of protein and good fats.
  • Eat avocados and chia seeds for omega-3 fats.

Remember, the only person who can keep YOU the healthiest is YOU!

DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.

Dr. YOU is a one-stop platform to address the health information needs of health consumers. Our goal is to arm people with the information necessary to make meaningful decisions regarding their health and nudge behaviour change.

With our combined experience of two decades in research and healthcare, we built the Dr. YOU platform around the WHO-endorsed “Best Buy” intervention design for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Follow us on Medium (@drYOUofficial) and Instagram (@dr.YOU_official) for the latest content and updates.

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