Fats are one of the basic building blocks of the human body. They are critical to the development of the human body, and for carrying out many of its functions.
One of the most important function of fat, within the human body, is the function of being a fuel. As fats are burned during aerobic exercise, energy is released to keep muscles moving. Fats, therefore, are essential to the survival of humans.
However, it is also true that fats have developed a somewhat ambivalent reputation in the recent past. With popular media in the middle of the 20th century claiming that ‘fats’ were responsible for heart disease, and therefore to be shunned, it was easy for fats to be feared and despised. But the reputation of this basic element of nutrition has made a significant comeback in recent years, since the scientist community has begun to emphasize the beneficial role of fats in a healthy diet.
The Various Types of Fat
These fats are known as ‘saturated’, because of the fact that the carbon atoms are ‘saturated’ with Hydrogen molecules via single bonds. Hence, they do not form a double bond with other carbon atoms. These fats are typically in a solid state at room temperature, unlike their ‘unsaturated’ counterparts.
While these fats had taken a lot of bad press during the second half of the last century, they have now redeemed themselves, due to an absence of association with heart disease. In fact, they are now known to be important protectors of the human immune system. Also, taking these fats will improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio, a desirable health indicator.
Fats of this category are usually vegetable oils in liquid form. The general modern advice for polyunsaturated fats is to avoid them if they are highly processed, and to use them if in their natural forms. Fatty fish, for example, is a great, recommended source of polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond in their molecular structure. There are several healthy foods that contain monounsaturated fats, including olive and sunflower oils. Monounsaturated fats are known to be healthy and to improve insulin resistance and the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio.
Trans fats are actually processed fats, which are passed through the process of ‘hydrogenation’. Hydrogenation adds extra hydrogen to fats which changes the general composition and attributes of these fats. Trans fats are often used in many processed foods to increase their shelf-lives. However, research has now proven these to be partially responsible for heart disease. Always read food labels and avoid any product containing trans-fat or ‘hydrogenated oils’.
As a responsible consumer, you should know the ingredients of the foods you eat. While certain types of fats, especially processed ones, are known to play havoc within the body, fats are also critical to maintaining some of the most important of the body’s functions. Here are some ways in which fats benefit us:
Act as fuel
Fat is the most efficient source of fuel for the human body. Compared to carbohydrates and proteins, the other basic sources of energy, fats contain the most energy for the same weight.
Build cell structures
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.
Compose the brain
The brain is composed of nearly 60% fat. All nerve fibers are surrounded by a myelin sheath which is made up of fat and which insulates the nerve cells. Fat is, therefore, a critical physical component of the brain.
Aid vitamin absorption
Fat-soluble vitamins need the presence of fats, usually from the diet, to be effectively absorbed through the intestines. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are examples of such vitamins.
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. You need fats because they regulate the production of sex hormones, which explains why some teenage girls who are too lean experience delayed pubertal development and amenorrhea.
Protect the organs
The visceral fat which is present in the areas between the vital organs, acts as a buffer to protect these organs. When the body incurs shocks and external pressure, the fat stores serve as ‘shock absorbers’ to soften the impact. 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.