The discussion over good and healthy foods has been going on for decades yet the common man does not really know whether fats are good or not and should they be avoided altogether! The health and wellness foods industry now offers a plethora of options for the health conscious consumer who is trying hard to fight lifestyle diseases by including healthy ingredients in his diet. Though there is increased awareness about bad fats and foods to avoid, what most people still do not fully understand is that not ALL fat is bad!
Not all fats are created equal
The market is crowded with cooking oils professing to be ‘zero cholesterol’ and ‘trans fat free’. However, it’s important to know that while all cooking oils are free of cholesterol (found in unrefined animal fats) one must avoid saturated fats and trans fats (found mostly in commercial baked goods) and instead include the GOOD fats in daily diet.
Eating good fats in the right amount does not make one fat. In fact, fat is essential for many of the body’s functions and overall good health.
Why do I need fat?
The body needs fats to provide energy and help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Certain fats are healthier than others and must be consumed as part of a healthy diet.
So just what do these good fats do and why are they considered sacred for good health?
Dr. Aashish Contractor, Head of Department, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai explains the benefits. He says, “Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (such as omega 3 and 6 fats) reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol in the blood and helping control blood glucose, when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet. Omega 6 is important for the brain and essential for the growth and development of infants. Omega-3 fat must also be consumed in your diet as it helps protect against heart attacks and strokes.”
The importance of fat in the diet
When talking about fats in the diet, moderation is a key word. It is not advised to avoid fats completely but experts recommend that the total fat intake should be between 25-35 percent of the total calories because:
- Fat is an important part of the diet, as it provides the greatest output of energy per gram of any food and improves the flavour of food.
- When stored in the body, fat helps maintain body temperature by acting as an insulator.
- Dietary fats are essential for the body to absorb and transport fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K which would not be absorbed without adequate fat in the body.
- Our bodies constantly replace cells to heal wounds and fats are essential for cellular production.
- Dry skin, dandruff, joint problems and mouth sores could be signs that you are not eating the right fats as these act as lubricants to keep you hair, skin and healthy.
How to choose the right fat?
According to Dr. Contractor, high levels of bad cholesterol can clog arteries but high levels of good cholesterol help protect against heart disease and stroke. He adds, “To stay healthy, use an oil low in saturated fat (which raises bad or LDL cholesterol) and high in monosaturated fats (which help to lower LDL cholesterol). Additionally, the oil should have low or zero trans fats, which too raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower good HDL cholesterol.”
The balancing act
Remember it is the type of fat you eat that matters most. The answer therefore is not to cut down on fats completely, but to include the good fats in moderation in your daily diet for staying healthy.