What are fats?
Dietary fats are the major source of energy for a day’s activities and they also support cell growth. They help protect organs and maintain body warmth. Fats are essential for our body to absorb some nutrients and to produce important hormones. Dietary fats may be saturated (solid at room temperature) or unsaturated (liquid at room temperature).
Fat does not directly make you “fat” – only the excess calories will make you “fat”. It’s about getting the right balance.
What are the types of fats in food?
Why do we need fats?
• Source of energy – Our body uses the fat we eat and converts it into energy
• Essential fatty acids (EFA) – Fats that are essential for growth, development and cell functions that cannot be synthesised by our body but have to be consumed in our diet
• Proper functioning of nerves and brain – Fats are part of myelin, a fatty material which surrounds our nerve cells and enables transmission of electrical impulse
• Maintaining healthy skin and other tissues – All our body cells need some fats as essential parts of cell membranes
• Transporter of fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamins A, D, E and K are transported through the bloodstream with the help of fats
• Component of hormones – Steroids and other important hormones are made up of fats
How much fat do we need?
The total fat in the diet should provide between 20-30% of our daily calorie intake. Adults with normal daily physical activity can consume upto 25 g (5 tsp /day) of fat, while an individual with high physical activity requires 30 – 40 g of visible fat. However, too much fat is not conducive to good health.
For individuals with coronary heart disease, the daily fat intake should be limited as per their health condition.
So, what is cholesterol, do we need it?
Yes, we need cholesterol. Cholesterol is present only in animal products such as milk, meat, egg and ghee, but not in plant foods. Vegetable oils and nuts do not contain Cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in all cells of our body and plays an important role in the formation of brain and nervous tissue. Apart from cholesterol in the food we eat, our liver also synthesizes cholesterol. Of the various forms of cholesterol, the high density lipoproteins (HDL) are the good cholesterol and have cardio protective effect. HDL is purely synthesized by our liver. So, to answer the question “do we need to take in cholesterol in our food”, the answer is no. Endogenous cholesterol or cholesterol produced by our liver is sufficient.
How to ensure healthy fat intake?
Fats can be taken in the form of oil in our daily diet. Always choose oil labelled us MUFA or PUFA and preferably vegetable oil. While it is recommended to consume small amounts of different oils on a daily basis, do not mix the different types of oils; instead keep them in separate containers and use for different purposes. Never cook with reheated oils as it converts healthy fats into unhealthy trans fats. Trans fats lead to accelerated aging, obesity, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart attack and stroke.
How to select and store Cooking Oils?
1. While selecting oil for cooking, always choose oils rich in monounsaturated fats ( Groundnut oil, Ricebran oil) instead of saturated fats (Ghee , Butter) and polyunsaturated fats(Sunflower, Red palm oil) because the former is rich in cholesterol and the latter is not stable at high temperatures.
2. Try to avoid frying, particularly at high temperatures. Frying the food in oil at high temperature causes oxidation of fats which is very unhealthy.
3. Purchase small quantities of oils at a time, that way we will most likely use them before they turn rancid.
4. Heat, oxygen and light cause oxidative damage of cooking oils. Therefore to protect oils from oxidation, it is important to keep them in an air tight container and place them in a cool, dry and dark place.