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Why has Fat got such a bad reputation when it provides health benefits?-by Dr Harold Gunatillake

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Harold Gunatillake

Fats are complex molecules composed of fatty acids and glycerol. The body needs fats for growth and energy. It also uses them to synthesize hormones and many other substances needed for the body’s activities (such as prostaglandins).

Fats in your diet helps you to enjoy the taste of food because they can dissolve and concentrate flavor and odor chemicals. The heating process of food ingredients in oil in a wok or pan releases these chemicals into the air, and some of the flavor molecules are already in your nose and mouth, even before you taste the food.

Methods of cooking your foods is important to know before we discuss what happens to your dietary fats when consumed.

Stir frying the way Chinese cook to serve a quick tasty meal is a fast way to cook pieces of food in a hot pan or wok. In addition to being quick and easy, stir-frying is also healthy. It results in tender-crisp vegetables that retain more nutrients than if they were boiled. And since stir-frying requires only a small amount of oil, the fat content is low.

Cooking food with an Asian-style wok is a healthy, compared to using a traditional pan. It retains the high heat and very little cooking oil is used. Further the large amounts of food that can be stir fried in a wok while being stirred without the food soaking up oil sitting in the bottom of the pan.

Deep fried food contains more calories than their non-fried counterparts, so eating lot of them can significantly increase your calorie intake.

Each stir-fry portion ends up with about 48 additional calories from flavorings, which brings your meal to 285 calories when the veggies are served over your rice.

Deep frying is unhealthy. This is because frying oxidizes oil which ends up in the creation of trans fats. If you want to be always at an increased risk of heart disease, deep frying is for you. Not only this, frying also adds saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. High temperatures end up destroying the nutrient value of your food.

Boiling food ingredients to cook is much healthier, as our parents did in the old-fashioned kitchens.

This cooking technique, in addition to making some vegetables edible, is also an effective way of eliminating dangerous bacteria and removing some toxins. On the downside, boiling results in the loss of minerals, vitamins, some sugars, and the phytochemicals that help deliver health benefits.

Healthy cooking methods include:

Steam, bake, grill, braise, boil, or microwave your foods.

Modify or eliminate recipes that include butter or ask you to deep fry or sauté in animal fat. Avoid added oils and butter; use non-stick cookware instead.

Don’t add salt to food as it is cooking.

Now let us discuss what happens to dietary fat we consume in various cuisines.

They provide the slowest, most efficient form of energy for our metabolic activities in our bodies.

The prevailing consensus is that 10% of your total energy intake be saturated fat, or 22g for women and 28 g for men.

They are found in all animal products like meat, dairy, eggs and fish. They are found in plant foods, too. They are found in nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and coconut and oil is extracted as oils for cooking purposes.

Even rice and other grains produce small amounts of oil extracted from the hard outer brown layer of rice called chaff or rice husk.

Other foods made as fat we consume are from butter, lard, or vegetable oils among others.

The main kind of fat found in our food are triglycerides, where each glycerin molecule is attached to three fatty acids. They are broken down in your gut through enzymatic activities from the pancreas called lipase and assisted by bile secreted in the liver, into fatty acids and glycerol

Ultimately, they are reconverted to triglycerides and the excess is stored in adipose cells as triglycerides.

Why we need fats though considered a bad word?

Every gram of fat provides 9 calories when carbs give only 4 calories. It is a better energy storage item than carbs. But carbs are converted to sugar and triglycerides and stored with

triglycerides from fats in the adipose cells. So, fats become a better energizer and serves an important role for storing energy.

“Older people tend to lose weight in the later stages of life, so having those energy reserves is beneficial,” says Dain LaRoche, a kinesiologist and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire. Eons ago when humans had to hunt for food, that fat storage helped us survive through the winters, he says. Having some fat reserves also aids cancer patients, who often lose weight and become frail during advanced stages of the disease.

Carbs give us quick energy and fats are much slower in giving us energy unless the body is starved of carbs as in keto diet.

The body uses these fatty acids to build substances it needs for growth, maintenance, and other activities.

We need dietary fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins-ADEK. If you cut out all the dietary fat you would be deficient in those essential vitamins.

Fat is found in every cell membrane in our body and is essential for cell growth and keeps us warm. They are found as phospholipids, triglycerides and cholesterol. Fat influence how well a cell absorbs nutrients and control what substances get in or out of a cell.

Fat is needed for blood clotting, wound healing, and inflammation response, among other processes.

Fat covers most organs to prevent shock from trauma. This is a function of the visceral fat or known as the hidden fat stored deep inside the belly, wrapped around the organs, including the liver and intestines. It makes up about one tenth of all the fat stored in the body. Most fat is stored underneath the skin and is known as subcutaneous fat. Sexy look among women is mainly due to their subcutaneous fat distribution.

Special mention needs to be emphasized on Omental fat. Omentum is a membranous sheet that hangs like an apron from the greater curvature of your stomach. It is also an important immune organ. It is also called the policeman of the abdomen which comes in handy to protect internal organs in situations like perforation of the gut due to trauma or inflammations.

Omentum is supposed to secrete hormones related to obesity, and we are still learning new information about its functions.

In a review published June 1 in Trends in Immunology, researchers discuss how the omentum is also an important immune organ that serves as a first line of defense against toxins and infection — hardly what you’d expect from a layer of fat.

The omentum’s immune functions come from groups of small, white filters located among the fat cells. Anatomists first discovered these cell clusters in rabbits around 1874, giving them the name milky spots. Recent research has shown that they aid the omentum by collecting information about the health of the abdominal cavity. While the size and shape of the omentum varies, milky spots speckle the entire tissue and serve as a filter for surrounding fluid.

“The fluid around the abdominal organs doesn’t just sit there, it circulates through the milky spots,” says Troy D. Randall, a clinical immunologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who co-wrote the review with postdoctoral fellow Selene Meza-Perez. “Milky spots collect cells, antigens, and bacteria before deciding what’s going to happen immunologically.”

Fats needed for your brain development.

Two of such fatty acids needed for brain development are linolenic acid, a fatty acid found in vegetable oils and fish oils, dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is needed for the optimum functional maturation of the retina and visual cortex, with visual acuity and mental development seemingly improved by extra DHA- docosahexaenoic acid.

DHA is mainly found in seafood such as fish, shellfish, and algae. Several types of fish and fish products are excellent sources, providing up to several grams per serving. These include mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, and caviar

DHA is naturally produced in small quantities by our bodies, but to achieve adequate amounts, DHA needs to be taken in through dietary sources such as cold-water fish, grass- fed meat, dairy, or omega-3 enriched or pasture-raised eggs. It is also available as supplements, such as fish oil.

Plant foods do not contain DHA, but they have a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha- linolenic acid, which is a precursor to DHA in your body.

Now you will realize the importance of including dietary fat in your food. It should be moderate as mentioned earlier, like drinking alcohol.

Hope this video talk was useful. Stay safe and goodbye for now.




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