The simple answer is that we need fat for good health. However, not all fat is good for health and knowing how to choose the right kind of fat is very important.
The following are the important facts that we should know:
- Fat can provide us with a concentrated source of energy and vital calories.
- The sources of fat can come from plants and animals.
- Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat.
- Fat can be divided into saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat is thick, like butter. Unsaturated fat is thin, as in oil.
- The fat that you find in food is made by a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. To determine it is saturated or unsaturated, we based on the majority of the fat a food contains.
- Fat and water do not mix, hence it is difficult for our body to digest and utilize. Luckily, bile which is made by our liver and secreted by the gallbladder, make the absorption happens.
- We need fat for good health because fat helps to transport fat-soluble vitamins, can insulate us in winter, can cushion falls and protect us from other types of impact to our body.
- Saturated fats are considered not good for health as they tend to raise blood cholesterol level and stimulate production of bad cholesterol LDL (low-density lipoprotein) that can cause artherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal-based foods with the exception of palm oil and coconut oil. You can find saturated fats in meat, cheese, lard and butter. Foods that have saturated fat are solid at room temperature.
(Note: The only animal oil that is not saturated is polyunsaturated fish oil. Unlike other saturated fats, fish oil contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It is suggested that we should eat fish at least twice a week, and we may take fish oil supplements to ensure getting enough omega-3s.)
- Unsaturated fats are good fats as they can lower LDL in our blood. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are also referred to as oils since they come mainly from plant sources.
Unsaturated fats can be further divided into monounsaturated (such as occur in olive, canola and nut oils) and polyunsaturated fats (such as sunflower, safflower, sesame. corn, soybean and cottonseed).
- It is important to avoid trans fats. Trans fats are artificially saturated fats that have been shown to raise bad LDL and lower the good cholesterol HDL (high-density lipoproteins) in our body. Unfortunately, trans fats have been used extensively in manufactured foods.
- Unlike butter which does not have trans fat, margarine is pure trans fat.
- Foods that contain fat should be refrigerated if we want to use for longer period.
Tan Kok Hui
Nutrition Made Simple, Life Made Rich