Fats | Types and sources of fats | Uses of Fats | Symptoms of fats deficiency
Fats are another macro nutrients required by humans other than protein and carbohydrates. Fats molecules also comprise of carbon, hydrogen or oxygen which are insoluble in water. Triglycerides, Lipids, Cholesterol are examples of fats in the human body. Fat tissues provide us the much needed insulation from the heat of the environment and save us from melting in water apart from providing energy in it’s dense form. The body forms fatty tissues from the diet. However, it was discoved in 1923 that some essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required to be included in diet for it’s functioning. These fatty acids are alpha-linolenic (commonly known as ALA or Omega 3) and linoleic ( commonly known as LA or Omega 6) which are used for various processes in the body without further synthesization of their molecules.
Types and sources of fats
There are three types of fats – the unsaturated fats (i.e. mono unsaturated fats and poly unsaturated fats) commonly referred to as good fats and saturated fats commonly referred to as bad fats and trans fats commonly referred to as the worst fats.
As a thumb rule, the fats derived from raw plant sources are unsaturated fats such as oil derived from seeds such as flax seeds, sunflower, olive, pumpkin, mustard, sesame (til), corn, soybean, canola seeds etc, nuts like almond, walnut, cashew, peanut, pistachio, pine nut (chilgoza) etc. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are part of unsaturated fats which are good for health and are found abundantly in fish.
Saturated fats may be responsible for health risks. The sources of saturated fats are usually animal products such as meat, milk & milk products like butter, cheese, paneer, ice-cream etc. but also in coconut oil and palm oil from plant source. Saturated fats is more commonly found in all ready to eat snacks, cookies, ice-cream, desserts, butter, pizza, burger, namkeens, samosa kachori, all fried snacks etc. Surprisingly the naturally occurring saturated fats in milk and breast milk are found to be healthy for the body but the saturated fats in prepared food is not healthy.
Trans fats are derived in industries by hydrogenation of unsaturated fats by making them more stable to enhance their shelf life. Thus trans fats became the most important form of fats used by restaurants, baking industry and processed food industry to keep the snacks available for eating for a longer duration. Trans fats is the worst form of fats as it aids in all type of health risks such as Cardo vascular diseases, diabetes, bone diseases, slowing brain functioning, high blood pressure, alzheimer, coronary artery diseases, obesity, liver diseases,infertility, depression, behavioural problems, acne, loss of memory etc. All countries are in the process of removing trans fats from the food chain in the public interest.
Uses of Fats
- Fats are the dense source of energy for the body better than the carbohydrates and protein. For 1 gram of fat 9 kilo calories (kcal) of energy is released against 4 kcal from 1g carbohydrates or protein.
- Fats are essentially required to absorb fat soluble vitamins i.e. vitamin A, D & E in the body which are essential for various body processes.
- Unused dietary fats are converted into body fats and stored in the tissues to be used later.
- Using unsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids may increase good High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol in the body and reduce bad Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol.
- Eating healthy mono unsaturated fats may help in weight management, obesity, inflammation etc by more fat burning and less storing tendencies. It also helps in reducing the triglycerides and keep the blood vessels clean. It also helps in reducing high blood pressure. The rich sources of mono unsaturated fats (MUFA) are mustard oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and seeds & nuts such as peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnut, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, muskmelon seeds, sesame seeds etc.
- Poly unsaturated fats are useful in formation of our cell membranes. This helps in transfer of hydrogen and sodium ions inside and outside of the cell. Poly unsaturated fats also help in reducing LDL, the bad Cholesterol. The sources of poly unsaturated fats are corns, sunflower seeds and oil, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds etc.
- Unsaturated Fats help to maintain healthy skin and hair. This helps in providing a glowing, wrinkle free skin naturally.
- Fats insulate the body from temperature and save from melting in water.
- Fats save us from the harmful elements reaching to toxic levels in the blood by storing them in fat tissues till these are either metabolized or excreted from the body.
- Unsaturated fats help in brain development, cognitive functions, healthy brain cells, improve psychomotor skills and prevent from neuro disorders.
- Unsaturated fats help in regulating liver functions, management of excretion of bile juice useful for digestion and even in managing conditions of fatty liver or liver enlargement.
- Apart from calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, fat molecules play an important role to maintain bone health and density.
- Use of food rich in mono unsaturated fats alleviate depression, induces sound sleep and keep you fresh and energetic when you are awake.
- Surprisingly, unsaturated fats play an important role in managing the appropriate glucose levels in the blood stream and prevent occurance of type 2 diabetes.
- Unsaturated fats help in strengthening of immune system in the body. It reduces inflammation in the internal organs and help in blood clotting & healing of wounds to recover fast from diseases, injuries and weakness.
- Fats are required in the production of harmones in the body alongwith protein for various body functions. The testosterone and estrogen, referred as sex harmones, are made from Cholesterol and are essential for keeping healthy sexual life.
How much fats should we consume
Ideally the consumption of fats should be based on your lifestyle and work profile as the excess fats tends to get stored into the body. However, in general, we should consume approximately one fourth of calories from fats that too from unsaturated fats. But in nature you can’t separate unsaturated fats from saturated fats as all the diets would also have saturated fats and may be some trans fats also. However, naturally occurring “bad fats” are adjusted by the body. The focus should be on avoiding processed saturated and trans fats.
Symptoms of fats deficiency
The fats deficiency is rare as most of the food we eat provide us the fats. However, there may be some medical conditions or dieting schedules which may create fats deficiency. The following symptoms would be triggered when body is not getting enough fats from diet:
- Craving for food rich in fats. Specially the trans fats and saturated fats as these are processed to improve taste, make colourful and attactive.
- There would be deficiency of fat soluble vitamins leading to night blindness, depression, dental problems, dull skin, damaged hair, muscular pain, bone diseases, blood clotting under nails etc.
- Skin rashes, itching, dry skin, developing cracks and scales on skin, pigmentation etc.
- Taking more time for healing of wounds, gums etc.
- Hair loss throughout the body including eye lashes & eye brows.
- Falling ill frequently and taking more time in healing and recovery from ailments.
- Losing interest in sexual activities.
- Unable to concentrate and focus on tasks.
- Frequent headache, eye pain, body pain, pain in joints etc.
- Weakness, giddiness, frequent instances of mind getting blank, increased forgetfulness etc.
What fats we should eat
To maintain robust health we should eat mostly unsaturated fats i.e. MUFA (Mono Unsaturated Fats) and PUFA (Poly Unsaturated Fats) which provide us omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for our daily need. Use seed oils in kitchen such as canola oil, olive oil, mustard oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, peanut oil etc and avoid coconut oil and palm oil. Use fresh and natural sources of fats such as dry fruits (nuts), seeds, milk, curd, paneer, soyabean, chickpeas, corn, beans as vegetarian sources of fats. The non vegetarian natural sources of fats include fish especially Salmon & Tuna and egg. “Low fat” diets contain 30% less fats compared to similar products. We should consume such diets only in emergency as such “low fats” means either of bad fats i.e. saturated or trans fats. The fruit rich in fats is only avocado that too in MUFA, the good fats. Other fruits and vegetables have very little or no fats. The fats to be avoided is the saturated fats and trans fats present in processed food items. All bakery items, all biscuits, all fried items, all frozen foods, all vegetable and hydrogenated oils, all fast food, all namkeens and all maida preparations unless these are prepared in good oil. Deshi Ghee or cow ghee may be taken in low quantity i.e. one spoon per day, to get the benefits of natural saturated fats.