In Defence of Fat

24 Aug

Fat has a bit of an image problem, it’s not hard to see why. Shall we start with the name? FAT.  It’s a word that you often hear thrown around as an insult, not to mention all the glossy magazines full of articles about how to lose fat. Fat has become a dirty word in the English language. Then there’s this idea that eating fat makes you fat which first popped up in the 80’s and has hung round ever since. It’s not hard to see where that came from, eating fat=gaining fat seems kind of logical but it’s a little more complicated than that…

What is a fat?

Fats are a fairly wide group of compounds. You’ve probably heard of saturated and unsaturated fats which are the two main categories but these can then be broken down further into other groups including monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and omega fatty acids to name just a few. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to go into the science-y bit about their differences here because then I’d have to start talking about things like atoms and double bonds and I do enough of that in my day job!

Because the difference between unsaturated and saturated fats is quite science-y people sometimes find it easier to call them good fats and bad fats. The unsaturated fats are the good fats and the saturated fats are the bad fats (there’s more info about which foods contain which fats below). It’s not hard to work out that the “good” unsaturated fats are the ones you should be aiming to get more of whilst the “bad” saturated fats are the ones you should be making sure not to get too much of. But remember- even though people call them bad fats doesn’t mean you need stop eating them completely, you can still have a perfectly healthy diet whilst enjoying a bit of what you fancy!

What do fats do in our bodies?

Fats are vital to the human body and very low fat diets are a sure way to upset your body. The body uses fats for many different things; for a start every cell in the body is surrounded by a fatty membrane, which means that getting enough fat in your diet is really important to keep your cells functioning properly. Intake of fat is also related to absorption of some vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, this means that they can’t be digested and absorbed properly if there’s no fat present.  Some hormones in the body are derived from fat. Hormones are like a messenger service in your body, one part of your body can release a hormone which tells another part of your body to do something.

Fat also plays an important role in the nerve cells (found in places such as the brain), one of the things these cells do is recognise and respond to a chemical called serotonin which has a role in mood regulation. A diet which is too low in fat can affect the nerve cells so they don’t respond to serotonin and that would leave you feeling pretty miserable.

As well as being a building block of all sorts of cells and chemicals in the body fat is also an important energy source. If you read the article on carbohydrates ((LINK TO LAST POST)) you might remember that the carbohydrate glucose is stored in the body (especially in the muscles) and used as an immediate source of energy, but when your body is running low on glucose it starts to use fat for energy instead.

What foods can I get fats from?

Nutrition guidelines suggest that around 30% of the energy you get from food should come from fats, though it recommends most of these are unsaturated. Here’s just a few suggestions of where to find the different types of fat:

Unsaturated fat: Nuts, sunflower and olive oil, avocado, oily fish

Saturated fat: Dairy products (such as cheese, butter, cream etc), fatty cuts of meat and animal fats, coconut oil, chocolate.

Disclaimer: Catherine is only a biology geek, not a nutritionist, so take everything she says with a grain of salt (as you would your chips!). And remember – life is too short to worry about whether you’re hitting the recommended targets of every nutrient, food should be fun, not something to worry over.

About the writer: Catherine is a biology geek by day and cake baker by night. When she’s not in the kitchen you’ll be able to find her writing, tending to her tomato plant or curled up reading one of her many cookbooks.

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