A Little About Fats

A couple of weeks ago, I introduced you to the idea of Carbohydrates as they affect your diet and health. However, as mentioned in my article on Nutrition, there are 3 macronutrients; Carbohydrates are only the first while lipids (fats) and proteins make up the other 2 parts of the macro-trio. Today, we’ll take a quick look at lipids to introduce you to the role they play in our diets and in our bodies.

First thing to understand is that lipids are the highest energy-yielding macronutrients. They provide 9 kCal (or just Cal) per gram on average. They are also the slowest digesting/absorbing macro of the three. This means that, although they provide a lot of energy, it takes a lot of work for the body to utilise that energy. Because of this, fats can actually be used to provide that “full feeling” for longer and, in fact, many people have turned to substituting fats in place of carbs to meet one’s daily caloric (energy) requirements as a means of weight-loss or fat-loss. Though this seems counter-intuitive, the results show that it has at least some moderate success and the science is there to back it.

But why do we need lipids? Lipids are a crucial component of our body’s cells. They support brain (and other organ) activity and are present in thin layers around the organs and under the skin to insulate and protect the organs (and body in general). Fats are used to dissolve certain micronutrients for transport into and out of our cells. They are a part of cell membranes. We need to ingest certain fats just to survive, so we shouldn’t be so afraid of them.

fish_frying
Fish – a good source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

So which fats are good? With so much information out there, it’s really hard to say. A while ago, the research showed that saturated fats clog your arteries and then that was debunked by a certain amount of new research. Basically, they are saying that the negative of saturated fats is inconclusive. Right now, the general nutritionist advice, as I learned attaining my diploma in nutrition, is that you should have a roughly even mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The one type of fat you should avoid is trans-fat.

Trans fats — what are those? These are fats that are hydrogenated to make them more solid (granted, there are small amounts of trans fats in some of our foods). One thing to note is that a higher intake of trans fats has been linked to a higher incidence of both chronic and acute cardiovascular disease including, but not limited to, heart attacks and strokes. They do this by increasing low-density lipoproteins and decreasing high-density lipoproteins.

Canola_Oil_bottle
Canola Oil used for cooking

So what about cooking oils? Well, one of the more important things to note is that some oils have a lower boiling point than others. You can do some research into which ones are safe to cook with and which aren’t (for e.g., Olive Oil is generally considered healthy, but it breaks down under high heat, potentially releasing free-radicals).

So should we avoid lipids? No. Instead, we should be careful about which ones we ingest and how much. Remember that weight-gain is caused by excess calories, so we still need to be careful how much fat we take in because of that high yield of energy. Try to make a salad dressing with some Olive Oil and enjoy intelligently 🙂 .

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