Why do you need fat and oil in your diet?
Posted on November 12th, 2012

Dr Hector Perera            London

Some people are more overweight than ever before and according to medical experts, diseases such as cancer and heart diseases can result due to over weight. Fat is important for many body processes. The problems arise when you exceed the amount. When you eat any tasty food, I am sure you would agree that you are tempted to eat more and more there by without your knowledge too much sugar, salt and fat enters the digestive system.

Those days we need to wait until the “sinhala awrudu” season to eat certain sweets such as “kaewum, kokis” but now there are shops selling these sweets all year round. You need to eat some fat in your diet but not too much.

Fat protects your organs, keeps you warm and helps your body absorb and move nutrients around. It also helps hormone production. However, some fats are better than others and having too much of any type is not a good idea. In Sri Lanka they use coconut, gingerly oil and sun flower seeds oil for cooking but coconut oil is one of the favourites for frying. Too difficult to resist not eating fried fish such as sheer fish or dry fish, papa dams, “seeni sambol” and fried aubergines. The list is too long to mention for which they use coconut oil. One cannot say they do not eat fatty foods at all.

The health benefits of coconut oil is a long list but let me mention just a few of them; it include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure and even for diabetes. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties. If you happened to visit some villagers in Sri Lanka, you might have noticed some ladies with long black hair, am sure they use nothing but coconut oil but the present generations use too many expensive hair products. The research findings are that it is an excellent conditioner and helps in the re-growth of damaged hair. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing damaged hair.

 Types of fats

Well, we have heard that some fats are better than the others, mainly there are three types of fats; saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to lower the blood cholesterol then trans fatty acids or trans fats are potentially harmful for the health. Some baked products such as biscuits, cakes and buns are made out of trans fats such as margarine but still majority of people never stop eating these foods.

We eat fried things such as bacon, sausages, cheese, margarine and butter toasts for breakfast not knowing how the body is going to react to these different kinds of fats and oils. Different types of fats react differently inside the body. Saturated fats (found mostly in animal products such as chicken, beef, mutton and pork products increase blood cholesterol, which is a risk factor in coronary heart disease. Again we need to remember to limit the quantity of these foods we eat. Mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to lower blood cholesterol.

When you are invited for a dinner party at friends or at a close relative’s house, usually they prepare a rich meal just as a respect to you. The appetizing aroma odour of the fried and cooked food, momentarily makes you hungry for such good food, there is no harm about but the problem is how would you resist and stop the temptation not to over eat and drink?

Dietary fats and blood cholesterol

Although fats have received a bad reputation for causing weight gain but still some fat is essential for survival. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes published by the USDA 20% – 35% of calories should come from fat. We need this amount of fat for the following reasons,

Body to use vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that the fat in foods helps the intestines absorb these vitamins into the body.

Brains development: Fat provides the structural components not only of cell membranes in the brain, but also of myelin, the fatty insulating sheath that surrounds each nerve fibre, enabling it to carry messages faster.

Energy: Gram for gram fats is the most efficient source of food energy. Each gram of fat provides nine calories of energy for the body, compared with four calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins.

Healthier skin: One of the more obvious signs of fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. In addition to giving skin its rounded appeal, the layer of fat just beneath the skin acts as the body’s own insulation to help regulate body temperature. Healthy cells: Fats are a vital part of the membrane that surrounds each cell of the body. Without a healthy cell membrane, the rest of the cell couldn’t function.

Making hormones: Fats are structural components of some of the most important substances in the body, including prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that regulate many of the body’s functions. Fats regulate the production of sex hormones, which explains why some teenage girls who are too lean experience delayed pubertal development and amenorrhea. Pleasure: Besides being a nutritious energy source, fat adds to the appealing taste, texture and appearance of food. Fats carry flavor.

Protective cushion for our organs: Many of the vital organs, especially the kidneys, heart, and intestines are cushioned by fat that helps protect them from injury and hold them in place.

The normal human body stores sufficient energy in fat for several weeks’ survival. This storage ability helps the organism deal with unpredictable variations in the food supply.

Plants, too, store energy in fats and oils. Oils are particularly common in seeds, where the stored energy helps seedlings during germination, until they can exploit solar energy through photosynthesis. Have you noticed how mung beans, chick peas, paddy and beans germinate? You would notice a seedling comes out when the seed germinates. The two flaps of the seed feed the germinating young seedling until the root is able to get hold of the soil and grow into the soil. When it got hold of the soil it develops green leaves then it start to live by the process of photosynthesis that is the production of food. The important issue is that the fleshy two flaps of the seed is the stored fat meant to feed the growing plant. This can be also noticed when cashew seeds are allowed to germinate but what do we do? We just cut open the cashews and eat the tasty kernel. When coconuts are left behind for sometimes, they too produce this germinating seedling but some people just break open the shell and eat the soft  tasty kernel called, “Pelapee”.

Let us first get an idea about fats.

What are fats? We hear about these all the time. Do we really know what fats are and what they supposed to do to our body? well here is a little description of fats.

Fats consist of a wide group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water. Chemically, fats are generally tri-esters of glycerol and fatty acids. Fats may be either solid or liquid at normal room temperature, depending on their structure and composition.

Although the words “oils”, “fats”, and “lipids” are all used to refer to fats, “oils” is usually used to refer to fats that are liquids at normal room temperature, while “fats” is usually used to refer to fats that are solids at normal room temperature. “Lipids” is used to refer to both liquid and solid fats, along with other related substances. The word “oil” is used for any substance that does not mix with water and has a greasy feel, such as petroleum (or crude oil) and heating oil, regardless of its chemical structure.

When we eat fats or lipids are broken down in the body by enzymes called lipases produced in the pancreas. Examples of edible animal fats are lard (pig fat), fish oil, and butter or ghee. Very often people make yellow rice or fried rice using lard, butter or ghee so the foods have a better taste. They are obtained from fats in the milk, meat and under the skin of the animal. Examples of edible plant fats are peanut, soya bean, sunflower, sesame, coconut, olive, and vegetable oils.

The location of the tissue determines its metabolic profile: “Visceral fat” is located within the abdominal wall (i.e., beneath the wall of abdominal muscle) whereas “subcutaneous fat” is located beneath the skin (and includes fat that is located in the abdominal area beneath the skin but above the abdominal muscle wall.

Beer belly

Abdominal obesity also known as belly fat or clinically as central obesity is nothing but fat around the stomach and abdomen. It is not just confined to elderly people only. This kind of abdominal fat sign has a strong connection between cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

One important fact to remember about abdominal fat is that fat stored under the muscle wall is not so dangerous. It is also a source of energy in dire circumstances. However, the fat stored under the skin of abdominal wall is considered extremely dangerous. Studies (so far) have proven conclusively that such fat is prone to cause heart attacks. Therefore, every effort must be taken to eliminate this excess fat (beer belly some called ra bada) through measures such as physical exercise and a balanced diet. Your comments are welcomed perera6@hotmail.co.uk

One Response to “Why do you need fat and oil in your diet?”

  1. HussainFahmy Says:

    A Balanced Diet, coupled with Regular Exercises is the Key to Good Health. We squander health in search of wealth; we work, we toil, we sweat. Then we squander wealth in search of health and only find the grave.

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