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Why is fats essential part of our diet?

New Delhi : Oil and fats, which have been associated with harmful effects on health, have essential functions in the body as well.

There are good fats and bad fats and hence it is crucial to understand the difference between the two and make choices on whether to include or exclude oils and fats in our diet.

The four major kinds of fats include- Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs) and Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs), which are good fats;

Trans Fats and to some extent Saturated Fats (SAFAs), which are categorized as bad fats. MUFAs are said to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and maintain HDL (good) cholesterol. PUFAs help to reduce LDL cholesterol, but too much can also lower HDL cholesterol. On the other hand, too much of SAFAs helps to raise LDL cholesterol levels.

Additionally, trans fats which are formed during the process of hydrogenation, tend to increase the LDL level which may lead to Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) and decrease the good cholesterol i.e. the HDL.

MUFAs like Olive, Canola and Peanut oil and PUFAs like Corn, Sunflower, Soybean and Safflower oil should be incorporated in our diet as they are healthier fats and tend to lower the risk of heart disease.

Gauri Iyer, technical head, AAK Kamani listed the benefits and functions of fats in our diet:

# Provides energy: Majority of people believe that carbohydrates are the only providers of energy for our body. One gram of carbohydrate provides four calories of energy, whereas one gram of fat provides nine calories, which is more than twice the energy produced. It is recommended that in a 1,800 calorie diet, 20-30 percent of the total energy should come from oils and fats. Oils and Fats which aren’t immediately used as energy are stored in cells and later on broken down when extra energy is required by the body.

# Provides healthy skin, nails and hair: Deficiency of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids causes flaky skin, dull nails, dry eyes etc. For maintaining healthy, skin and nails, consumption of these fats are essential as they help our bodies absorb high amounts of fat soluble vitamins through the bloodstream.

# Protects our Body: Oils and Fats act as a natural cushioning mechanism for our body. It protects vital organs from being damaged when the body suffers a sudden impact.

# Oils and Fats alters hormone production: The right quantity and quality of fat is essential as fats manage our body’s production of hormones. Oils and Fats are structural components of some of the most important substances in the body, including prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that regulate many of the body’s functions.

# Protects brain cells: Oils/Fats provide the structural components of cell membranes in the brain.They are the most efficient sources of energy for our brain cells, which along with exercise helps in memory retention, increasing learning capabilities as well as affects our mood and hormones.

# Fats absorb vitamins: Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are extremely crucial and we require them on daily basis. These vitamins depend on fat for storage and absorption. Vitamin A helps to keep our eyes healthy, Vitamin D helps to keep our bones strong, Vitamin E neutralizes free radicals and Vitamin K assists in blood clotting. To absorb the important vitamins in the body, it is essential to consume fats.

# Decrease in Cholesterol and Heart Disease: People, who consume good amounts of fatty fish, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil or any vegetarian source of omega 3, receive adequate omega-3 which helps to maintain HDL (Good Cholesterol), reduces LDL (Bad cholesterol) and lowers triglyceride levels. By reducing sugar and carbohydrate intake, triglyceride levels and the risk of heart ailments can be reduced.

# Lowers High blood pressure (hypertension): Including omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil supplements, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil or any vegetarian source of omega 3 helps lower the level of blood pressure in patients who have hypertension.

# Reduces the chances of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis: Research shows that people who do not consume any oils and fats have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Alternately people who consume fish oil, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil or any vegetarian source of omega 3 have shown reduced signs of rheumatoid arthritis such as joint pain and stiffness.

#Weight management: Recent research has shown that a balanced diet, consumption of omega-3 fish oil, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil or any vegetarian source of omega 3 along with regular exercise can boost weight loss.