5 FACTS AND MYTHS ABOUT FATS
Fats, by definition, are triesters of organic fatty acids and glycerol. Chemistry jargon aside, compounds that generally dissolve in organic solvents and are sparingly soluble in water are fats. Oils are fats in the liquid state at room temperature. Fats are important for the normal functioning of the human body; in fact, a normal human body is made up of 15% to 25% fat. The normal human brain is nearly 60% fat! Dietary fat is a source of energy for the body (1 gram fat equals 9 calories) and is required for normal growth of cells, their maintenance and repair. Fat is also stored under the skin to insulate the body.
Myth: All fats are unhealthy
There are various types of fats, both found naturally or those modified by humans (artificial trans fats). Some fats if consumed in large amounts can cause ill effects but not all fats are unhealthy. Unsaturated fatty acids like Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have beneficial effects (1) and are found in fish, flax seeds and walnuts. Medium chain fatty acids (6-12 carbons) are very interesting as they are rapidly metabolized in the body to release energy and do not deposit in fat cells. There is ongoing research if these fats can be used as weight loss agents (2). These are found in coconut oil and dairy products.
Fact: Trans fats need to be avoided
This is the villain of the fat world and is present in many processed food products, snack foods and baked goods, while small amounts are found naturally in beef, pork, lamb, milk and butter. There are no safe limits for intake of trans fat (recommended to keep it <1% energy requirement, or <2 grams/day). Trans fats are associated with heart diseases and have adverse effects on thrombogenesis (3).
Myth: Low fat food products help in weight loss
In order to maintain the taste and texture of low fat foods, manufacturers increase the amount of sugars, salt and additives in them. The ‘low-fat’ label also leads people to over-indulge and they end up consuming many more calories. In order to lose weight, it is necessary to make informed decisions by reading the nutrition facts of foods and exercising regularly.
Fact: Excessive fat intake leads to obesity and insulin resistance
Ample scientific evidence shows that excessive fat intake leads to obesity and insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes (4). Due to our modern inactive lifestyles, excess fats do not metabolize, leading to storage of fats in the body. Genetic predisposition also plays an important role in these disorders.
Myth: Fat makes you fat
Fat, when consumed in moderate amounts will never make anyone fat. Like fat, carbohydrates and proteins also contribute to calories we consume through our diet. It is essential to keep the calories in check. A balanced diet containing about 50 to 80 grams fat per day (ideally most of it unsaturated) is recommended. Many of the essential vitamins are fat soluble and unless you consume fat you will be deprived of them.
Finally, the answer to the question ‘Does roasted turkey contain trans fat?’ is Yes (5). It has about 0.1% trans fat, so make sure you do not eat more than 4 pounds of roasted turkey in a day!
- Simopoulos A. P. Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. September 1991 vol. 54 no. 3 438-463.
- Rego Costa A. C., Rosado E. L., Soares-Mota M. Influence of the dietary intake of medium chain triglycerides on body composition, energy expenditure and satiety: a systematic review. Nutricion Hospitalaria 2012;27:103–8.
- Murray S, Flegel K. Chewing the fat on trans fats. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2005;173(10):1158-1159. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051271.
- Riccardi G., Giacco R. and Rivellese A.A. Dietary fat, insulin sensitivity and the metabolic syndrome. Clinical Nutrition, Volume 23, Issue 4, August 2004, Pages 447-456. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2004.02.006.