Friday, June 17th, 2016

Why fat is a boon as well as a bane

Rajkumari Tankha | June 17, 2016 12:36 pm Print
Human body NEEDS fat, the healthy fat, to function normally. Not eating fats means you run the risk of getting insufficient amounts of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) and essential fatty acids
Samosas : Intake is unhealthy

Eating fat will make you fat is something that is commonly heard in almost all households. Everyone is scared of the word “F-A-T”. We go to any extent for a low-fat diet. Picking up the low fat packets in a store gives us the feeling of healthiness. But we ignore the fact that all low-fat labeled foods or roasted foods are high in sodium or sugar content, which is more harmful than fat.

In this article, we bust the many myths associated with this food constituent.

Let us first understand what dietary fat is.
Dietary fat is one of the important nutrients required by all of us. Fats give us twice the energy as compared to proteins and carbohydrates (one gram of carbohydrate and protein yield 4 calories while one gram of fat yields 9 calories).

Human body NEEDS fat, the healthy fat, to function normally. Not eating fats means you run the risk of getting insufficient amounts of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) and essential fatty acids. Experts say eating healthy fats is actually the best fat loss strategy. A study in the journal Diabetes Care has found that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats (such as almonds) may actually prevent the accumulation of abdominal fat.

Fats not only help in lubrication of joints but some good fats like those present in nuts and seeds contain DHA that help in brain development. In fact, Docosahexaenoic Acid, a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, sperm, testicles and retina, is an omega-3 fatty acid.

Such is the importance of fats.

“Vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are called fat-soluble which means that these need to bind to a fat to be absorbed,” says Dr Meenakshi Ahuja, Apollo Cradle Royale, Nehru enclave.

“Fats store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs. They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism. So fats are quiet an important dietary constituent,” adds Dr Ahuja.

Experts suggest that 20 % to 30 % of our daily calories should come from fats, and of this no more than 10 % should come from the saturated variety. In a diet of 1,800 calories a day, fat should constitute between 40 and 60 grams.

Those who attempt to remove fat from their diet end up eating too many processed foods, low-fat or fat-free, and that is a lot less healthy than the natural lower fat foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Top your salad with low-fat dressing and you could miss out on a lot of the benefits in those leafy greens which can also leave you craving for a snack later.

Nutritionists also say that getting the right amount of fat from the right sources will not only ensure that your food isn’t bland, but it will also help you lose stubborn fat stored in the body.

So why is fat considered so bad
The main reason why fat gets a bad rap is that much of the type we eat comes in unhealthy packages like doughnuts and cheese fries, samosas and jalebis.

“Not all fats are equal. Fat is all about the source it comes from,” says Clinical Nutritionist Ishi Khosla, “about 30-35% of food should consist of good fat.”

“The problem is we associate fat with only cholesterol while fats are very good for gut, digestion and human immune system,” says Khosla

“Unprocessed oil, virgin coconut oil, desi ghee are some of the good fats that should be consumed while one must keep away from Vanaspati, hydrogenated oils and margarines,” adds Khosla.

“The obsession of low fat diets has given us more cholesterol issues,” agrees Consultant Nutritionist Suneela Bhatia. “This doesn’t mean that we can have liberal amounts of ghee in our diet. A tablespoon full of ghee in a day is good, along with an active lifestyle. In our daily diet we should have seasonal vegetables, fruits, 3-4 litres of water and 150 minutes of strength training exercise weekly. Packaged foods should be avoided as they have hidden fats. So prefer a suji ka halwa to a cake or muffin. Mustard oil or Groundnut oil can be used for cooking some vegetables,” adds Bhatia.

Kinds of fat
Fats are of two kinds, saturated and unsaturated. A saturated fat is one that is solid at room temp like butter while the unsaturated fats are oils at room temperature.

Saturated fats were earlier considered as “bad” fats, but new researches state otherwise. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists discovered that there wasn’t enough proof to link saturated fat to either heart disease or stroke.
Another study found that certain saturated fats can be metabolized by your body faster than others, which means they are rarely stored as flab.

The Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) are oils at room temperature like safflower, corn oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, or vegetable oil tend to be liquid at the room temperature. PUFAs can help reduce the risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease by helping improve cholesterol.

The Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) are present in avocados and green olives, and these help improve cholesterol levels and steady blood sugar.

The Omega-3 Fatty Acids protect against cardiovascular disease and inflammation. These are present in cooked salmon, sardines and walnuts.

The Omega-6 Fatty Acids decrease the risk of getting coronary disease. It is present in
Caesar salad dressing and almond butter.

How to eat fat
Ideally, one must combine fats and carbs in the same meal as it will keep the blood sugar stable and guard against hunger-inducing spikes and dips. Further, one must spread the fat-carb combos throughout the day. : Like natural nut butter on whole-grain toast in the breakfast and olive oil on salad at lunch.

Also understand that low fat doesn’t necessarily mean low calories. The usual salad dressings and sauces that say low fat have high sugar content. So, it’s better to go for the normal ‘more fat’ version and just restrict the amount you have.

Nutritionists no more advise low fat diets as they mess with hormonal balances. Hormones like testosterone and growth hormone play an important role in fat loss but both these function effectively only when there is sufficient fat intake NOT otherwise.

“Rather than having bread with low fat butter, it’s better to have the desi ghee parantha or a ghee ki chonki dal. Desi ghee or clarified butter oil is good fat. It is easier to digest, rich in omega 3, omega 9 fatty acids, vitamin A, E, D, K, conjugated linoleic acid and phenolic anti-oxidants,” says Bhatia. “Recent studies have found that it also offers protection against cancer. It nourishes skin and hair, increases metabolism and decreases insulin resistance,” she adds.

One must avoid man-made trans fats as these raise bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and lower good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL). These have been chemically altered through a process called hydrogenation to make the product they are in easier to sell (for example, some packaged cookies contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats to make them last longer on store shelves).

The bottom line is fat is not the culprit anymore. You must have fats, the good fats. But always remember to watch your portions. Too much of everything is bad, aint it?

Rajkumari Tankha
Rajkumari Tankha
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist. She has previously worked for Ministry of I & B (Govt of India), Hindustan Times and Special Audience Publications.