The Functions of Fat in the Body

Fats always have a bad reputation in the dietary world. It is always linked with weight gain and other diseases. However, this micronutrients is as important as other nutrients. It is essential for the body. Now you may be wondering how this can be important for our body. But, you were wrong the whole time you ignored these essential nutrients. The fat in the body is very much as important as that of protein or any other nutrients. The functions of the fats in the body is to provide energy, provide insulation to the body and many more.

Studies have found out that the lack of this micronutrient can lead to bad performance. Then why the bad reputation?

You need to understand the difference between the bad fat and the good fat to clear out the bad image of this micronutrient. 

Read the article to know about the functions of fat in the body, types of body fats and good fats vs bad fats.

The Functions of Fat in the Body

Over the past few years fat has been in the bad lame light in nutrition and dieting work but fat has many essential functions which are important for the body. Though, too much cholesterol and other fats can lead to diseases and a healthy diet needs a watch on fat consumption. But our body needs a certain amount of fat to function.

Triglycerides and other essential fats can’t be made by our body on their own. Dietary fats are not just a source of energy, they work as insulators, store energy and protect our vital organs. They also act as messengers for our body, helping control the growth, immune function and other aspects of basic metabolism.

The functions of fats in the body is explained in details below:

  1. A source of energy

One of the functions of fats in the body is to provide energy. While carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body, fats works as a backup energy source when carbohydrates are not available. Fat is a concentrated source of energy and provides 9 kcal calories from 1gram of fat which is double the amount of carbohydrates and protein combined. Fats also yield more energy because fats contain less percent of oxygen and higher percentage of carbon and hydrogen.

Fats can be stored in the body in the form of fatty tissues beneath your skin, and release fatty acids when your body needs energy.

Because fats contain large amounts of calories so you need to limit them in your diet to 20-25%  calories from fat. Remember you only need to limit them not eliminate them.

  1. Insulation and Body temperature

The next function of fat is that it provides insulation to the body and helps in maintaining the normal temperature. Fat is stored in the form of adipose tissue in the body. It insulates your body and helps in sustaining the normal core body temperature. You may have seen that those who don’t have abundant or enough fat in the body tend to feel cool sooner, they also often feel fatigue. These types of individuals also have pressure sores in their skin from fatty acids deficiency.

Generally, adipose tissue is not always visible, but it can be seen under the skin of obese or overweight individual. You might have noticed an abundance of fat around particular areas of your body like thighs and stomach. It is the stored adipose tissue.

  1. Structural Components

Fats also works as a membrane and controls the movement of substance in and out of the cells. The membrane is a type of physical separation between the inside and outside of the cells. If a substance wants to enter inside the cell, it first needs to pass out from the cell membrane to enter inside the cell. 

The cell membrane is mainly made up of phospholipids , triglycerides and cholesterol. This also influences the biological functions of fats such as the endocytosis process; in endocytosis the cell wraps itself around a particle to allow it’s uptake.

Did you know that your brain is rich in fat, i.e 60% of fat, iand it also has a unique type of fatty acids composition.

  1. Carrier of vitamins

It is also one of the most important functions of fats in the human body. Fats works as a carrier of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. It also supports the absorption of these vitamins inside the body. These vitamins are an essential part of your body’s diet. They cannot function properly without the adequate amount of daily fat intake.

Vitamin A supports eye health and promotes good vision. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium, thus promotes bone health, Vitamin E protects the cells by neutralizing the free radicals while Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting.

If your diet doesn’t contain adequate amounts of fat according to the daily intake value or you are following a low fat diet, then it can cause hindrance in the absorption of the vitamins and cause impaired functioning.

  1. Support optimal health

Omega-3 fatty acids is an essential fatty acid which is required in the body mechanism. It helps in protecting the heart from diseases and stroke by promoting relaxation and contraction of artery walls. Omega-3 is also important for the synthesis of some hormones that prevent blood clotting, enhance metabolism and immune system functioning. The source of omega-3 fatty acids are olive oil, walnuts, flaxseed, eggs, salmon, tuna and other fatty fishes.

  1. Boost Brain Functioning

As you read earlier that 60% of the brain is made up of fats, which makes fats an important micronutrient for brain health. Fats play a critical role in mental growth and development. Fats also synthesis many neurotransmitters, which is a chemical messenger of the brain. 

It is impossible for the pregnant lady to consume a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids to enhance the baby’s brain and eye development.

You may have understood the importance of fats in the body function, continue reading the article to know about the different types of fats.

How many different types of Fats are there?

Dietary fats are classified into 3 basic categories. Following are the 3 types of fats:

  • Saturated fats
  • Unsaturated fats
    • Monounsaturated fatty acid ( MUFA)
    • Polyunsaturated fatty acids ( PUFA )
  • Trans fats

Each types of fats in the body behaves differently. These are described below in detail.

  1. Saturated fats

Saturated fat is a type of dietary fats. It is also considered as bad fats. These fats are often solid at room temperature. Saturated fats raise the level of low density lipoprotein ( LDL)  and cholesterol level, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Saturated fats are mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats ( coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil). These fats are also commonly found in energy dense takeaway fast meals, some commercial products ( biscuits and pastries) , discretionary foods and drinks.

It is recommended to have saturated fats in limited amounts and you should also select lower saturated fats option like yoghurt,cheese, reduced fat milk and leaner cuts if meats.

Some of the saturated fat sources are:  

  • fatty cuts of meat 
  • full-fat milk, cheese, butter, cream 
  • most commercially baked products
  • most deep-fried fast foods
  • coconut and palm oil.
  1. Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fas are considered as good fats. These are liquid at room temperature. They are considering beneficial because they reduce the level of LDL and cholesterol in the body. They are considered to improve the blood cholesterol level in the body, ease inflammation and helps in preventing cardiovascular diseases.

Unsaturated fats are of two types- Monounsaturated fatty acids ( MUFA) and Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).  They tends to lower the LDL level in the body when they replace the saturated fats in your diet.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have a greater ability to reduce LDL cholesterol in the body than monounsaturated fatty acids.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in:

  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds and it’s oil
  • Fish
  • Sunflower, corn and soybean oil
  • Canola oil( source of both MUFA and PUFA)

Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in:

  • Olive, peanuts and canola oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts- almond, hazelnuts and pecans
  • Pumpkin and sesame seeds.

Omega-3 fats are also an important polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 is linked with lower risk of premature death among adults. Source of omega-3 includes flax seeds, walnut, canola oil and fish.

  1. Trans fats

Trans fats also known as trans fatty acids are made by heating liquid vegetable oils through the process of hydrolysis ( heatiny in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst). Trans fats behaves like saturated fats and hence considered as bad fats. They raise the blood LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. They tends to lower the level of HDL (good) cholesterol, so they are even more dangerous.

Trans fats are found rarely in nature. They are only present in the stomach of cows and sheeps. Becu of this they are found in small amounts in milk, cheese, lamb and beef.

These are also found in some processed foods like pastries, biscuits, buns and deep fried takeaway meals. 

We should be more concerned about these processed food and not about the small amount of naturally trans fats in foods like low fat dairy products and lean meat.

Now you must have understood about the different types of fats and what are the functions of fats in the body, continue reading to know about good fats vs bad fats.

Good fats vs Bad fats

After reading the types of fats you must have known which fats is good and which fat is bad for your health. The unsaturated fats, i.e, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered as good fats, while saturated and trans fats are considered as bad fats.

You should always opt for MUFA and PUFA, whenever possible. It help in stabilizing your cholesterol level and also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you take saturated fats in high amount then it will raise the level of LDL cholesterol in the body. And the elevaled LDL will hardens the arteries wall and raise the blood pressure, which may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

You need to have a diet increased in high density lipoprotein to get rid of the low level lipoprotein. Trans fats are more harmful then saturated fats because they decrease the HDL cholesterol in the body. These are mostly found in processed foods. So you need to be more concerned while having processed foods, because they are more harmful than the natural occuring trans fats.

After reading the functions of fats in the human body ,different types of fats and good fats vs bad fats, let’s understand about the relation between fat intake and weight.

What is the relation between fat intake and weight?

A diet rich in fats can leads to weight gain which may further increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer. Hence it becomes necessary for you to loose weight if you are overweight.

Loosing weight takes more than just eating diet in low fats. You need to have a watch on how many calories you are taking and in how much portion.

Since calories in fat is twice than that of carbohydrates and protein combined, so it is important for you to understand what a serving of a fat is equal to. For example one teaspoon oil that is 5 gram of fat can provides you with 45 calories.

Always learn about the food you eat by reading the nutritional level provided. Consider choosing “low fat” products and also reduce your intake of saturated fats, if you are on weight loss diet. You can also choose low fat source of proteins like lean meats, fish, egg whites, dried bean, peas and tofu.

While dining out always choose simply prepared foods such broiled or baked fish, salads with vinegar and olive oil dressing and frozen yoghurt.

Effects of fats on health

Consumption of dietary fats in high amount can cause number of diseases. Taking bad fats will increase the risk of heart related diseases. The major non- communicable diseases  are interrelated to the fats consumption. Excess of fats can cause obesity, cancer, heart diseases and other types of neurological diseases. The effects of fats on the body is detailed below:

  1. Obesity

An imbalance of energy occurs when more calories is consumed than used. With time this imbalance leads to increase in weight and increase in body fat which later becomes the cause of obesity.

As you have read earlier in the article that fats provide more calories than carbohydrates and proteins you need to have a check on its intake. 

Having too much body fat can be harmful and can  cause some serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

  1. Cancer

Higher fat intake specially saturated and trans fats may increase the risk of cancer, particularly the colon and breast cancer. Higher fat intake leads to increase in blood estrogen level and increased obesity.

According to a study, endometrial cancer occurs more often in the places where the population eats a high fat diet.

  1. High blood pressure

People who follows a strict vegetarian diets are tend to have low blood pressure than people who have a typical western diet. Vegetarian diet is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids helps in lower the blood pressure and helps in having a healthy heart.

  1. Heart disease

Diets with high fat intake, specially saturated fat leads to the increased level of LDL cholesterol and cause hardening of arteries. This ultimately effect the heart health and can cause heart stroke.

Also high fat diet leads to the deposition of fats in the arterial valves and can leads to seriously heart condition.

It is recommended to have a diet low in fats. Also try to have food rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, to increase the level of good cholesterol.

Now you may have understood about the different types of fats, what are the functions of fats in the body and good fats vs bad fats. Continue reading to know about the dietary recommendations of fat intake.

Dietary recommendations of fat intake

According to the dietary reference intake (DRI), an adult should take upto 20-30% of total calories from fat. This means that you should have 44 grams – 77 grams of fat in your 2000 calorie diet. It is also recommended to have more of unsaturated fats and less of saturated and trans fatty acids. It is because of the positive health benefits of unsaturated fats. You should take

  • Monosaturated fats : 15% to 20%
  • Polyunsaturated fats : 5% to 10%
  • Saturated fats : less than 10%
  • Trans fats : 0%
  • Cholesterol : less than 300mg per day

How can I start eating healthier?

The first thing for a healthy diet is to replace your foods from high saturated fats to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Follow the tips given bellow for a healthy diet:

  • Always check the food label for the amount of trans fats listed. By law, if a serving of food contains less than 0.5 grams of fats than it can be labelled as 0 grams. So it is important to check the ingredients list to know about the partially hydrolysed food.
  • Use oil instead of solid fats during sauting.
  • Bake or boil the seafoods, instead of frying. Also try to have fish instead of meat to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Choose lean meat and skin less poultry. And trim the visible fat from meat and poultry.
  • Mostly processed snack foods are high in fats, especially saturated fat. Be smart, and always check the label before buying. Try to snack on whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Also, keep in mind that most foods contain a mix of different types of fats in varying amounts. Try to choose foods that contains unsaturated fats, instead of saturated or trans fats.

Summary

Fats are essential for the proper functioning of the body. It provides more energy to the body than carbohydrates. The functions of fats in the human body includes insulation, regulation, absorption of vitamins, hormonal activity and much more.

You need to understand the difference between the good fats and bad fats. Instead of eliminating fats from your diet, you should take good fats in limited amount.

Also you need to check on the calories and portion size of fat intake from your diet.

Avoid using saturated and trans fats, instead opt for MUFA and PUFA.

This article contains information about the functions of fats in the human body, fats in the body function, types of fats in the body, good fats vs bad fats.

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