The versatility of fats. Benefits and harms.

Fats are organic compounds containing the triatomic alcohol glycerol and free fatty acids. They are one of the main, vital classes of nutrients, and perform a number of differently directed favorable effects in the body. They are part of cells and tissues, in many ways giving the latter their specific functions. So, for example, myelin sheath of nerves, the main components of which are represented by phospholipids, cholesterol and cerebrosides, provides isolated conduction of impulses. Fats also form a kind of internal lining of alveoli, a surfactant, preventing them from collapsing during certain phases of the respiratory cycle. The energetic value of these compounds is more than twice that of proteins and carbohydrates: thus, when we burn 1 gram of fat inside our cells, 9.3 kilocalories are released. Their other no less important functions are:
  • Thermal – this is what determines the importance and nature of subcutaneous fat deposition.
  • Structural – the bilipid layer of the membrane is a barrier, a selectively permeable boundary between the inner cell and the extracellular substance, which decides what substances can get in or out, and what substances are strictly forbidden.
  • Regulatory – the chemical nature of some vitamins (A, D, E, K) as well as hormones (in particular, sex hormones) and signaling molecules is based precisely on fats, which significantly increases the arsenal of all the functions they perform. For example, prostaglandins – derivatives of arachidonic acid – are important building blocks in the relentlessly building wall of inflammation, and are involved in increasing the permeability of the vascular walls, their dilation, as well as the development of edema.
  • Cushioning function – they protect internal organs from various kinds of damage.
Read more about vitamins A, D, E, K in our blog

Types of Fats

Depending on the chemical structure (on the molecules they contain) all fats can be divided into simple and complex, and within each of these categories we can make long lists of all their subspecies and derivatives.
Nowadays, it is quite common to divide fats into saturated and unsaturated, depending on the nature of the bond between the hydrocarbon atoms. However, this does not apply to fats, but to fatty acids, one of the two obligatory components from which lipids are formed.
Saturated fatty acids (those with purely single bonds) include the following: propionic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid. Animal fats, cocoa butter, butter, palm oil, coconut oil and clarified butter are rich in them.
Unsaturated fatty acids (whose carboxylic chains contain double or triple bonds) can be divided into two large groups:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) contain one double bond.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have two or more. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are perhaps their most prominent and now the most popular among the general population.

Animal and vegetable fats

In many ways the chemical structure of fats depends on whether they are of plant or animal origin. This generally determines their consistency and the nature of the bonds (saturated or unsaturated) in the carbon chain. In general, a rational, healthy diet, according to experts, includes both sources.
Learn more about the balance diet
The variety of plant fats is truly impressive: many grains, nuts, seeds and even vegetables contain them. Seeds, fruits and seeds are used to make oils: sunflower oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil, linseed oil, hemp oil, grape oil, cedar oil and many others. There are several ways of obtaining them:
  • Pressing – this technology is gentler, but it is considered less effective: the oil cake that remains after pressing contains a large percentage of fat.
  • Extraction method. In this process, the organic solvents used in the process help to separate almost all the useful fats from the raw material.
Food industry and processing industry use for obtaining animal fats raw materials of different origin (mainly bones and fatty tissue) which contain large amounts of saturated fatty acids: stearic and palmitic. This type of organic compounds usually enters the human body as part of the following products:
  • Meat and by-products.
  • Fatty fish is an excellent source of Omega-3 and fat-soluble vitamins. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the assimilation of the latter is possible only with the adequate flow of bile, acting not only as an emulsifier, but also activating pancreatic enzymes.
  • Chicken eggs are an excellent source of fat and protein, as well as choline (in the body is included in the synthesis of one of the main neurotransmitters – acetylcholine), vitamin E and biotin.
Read more about proteins
  • Milk, cottage cheese, cheese, sour cream, cream (up to 30% fat content), butter and ghee. In spite of the wide range of beneficial effects of fats, we should not forget that they are rather high in calories. So, weight loss can be in considerable danger if you, for example, pour olive oil on a salad wholeheartedly. Is it good for you? Absolutely! But only if you’re physically active enough and within the necessary caloric intake to meet your body’s needs.

Beneficial and Unhealthy Fats

Just a few decades ago, low-fat diets were at the peak of popularity: they were promoted as almost the only and most reliable way to prevent coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
However, a sharp decrease in fat, which is the most saturated products (as much as 9 kilocalories compared to 4, which gives, for example, 1 gram of protein), led to a rapid increase in the composition of the produced amount of carbohydrates – there came an era of diabetes and obesity.
Taking into consideration the undeniable importance of this class of compounds, to exclude or reduce fat consumption completely is not the most rational idea, because, at the very least, it will lead to malfunctioning of the endocrine system in general.
Conventionally, all fats can be divided into “useful” and “not so useful,” even though this classification, let us repeat, is very subjective.
The first group includes sources of omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids, whose anti-inflammatory effects and modulating effects on the cardiovascular system have been proven in dozens, if not hundreds, of studies.
As it has been already told, in the realities of the modern world with its very diverse, but very often – far from being as correct as we would like, the diet, it is necessary to follow the optimum ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: the last act as the complete antagonists involved in many pathological processes of various localization. In particular, the same prostaglandins largely mimic the action of histamine, increasing the permeability of the vascular wall (and, consequently, contributing to the release of plasma with dissolved substances in it into the tissues – edema develops), lead to spasm of the intestinal muscle cells, bronchi and uterus.
The second group includes saturated fats and trans fats. We recommend reducing the consumption of butter, cheese, margarine and fatty meats (beef, lamb, pork), as well as foods high in palm and coconut oils, such as chocolate, confectionery and fast food.

The body's need for fats

Composing a balanced diet is a strictly individual process that should be conducted by a nutritionist, taking into account age, sex, place of residence and the degree of physical activity. The following basic ratios should be considered:

  1. Fats should occupy no more than 30% of the total number of calories in the daily diet of the average person. Northerners require about 40% due to more severe climatic conditions, and residents of southern regions can reduce it to 27-28%.
  2. If measured in grams, the norm is 1 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight, in other words 100 grams of fat a day for an adult.
  3. Plant fats should account for 30%, and animal fats for 70%.
  4. Not all fatty acids are replaceable, which means that the body needs to get them from the outside, from food. In addition, we have already said that, say, the process of formation of Omega-3 from the raw materials received with the food (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid) proceeds rather slowly – it is more rational to fill the need for them already ready forms, contained in fatty fish and supplements.
  5. In elderly people, due to sluggish metabolic reactions, the proportion of fat in the daily diet should not exceed 25%.
    The American Heart Association gives the following recommendations: a healthy person’s daily diet should not contain more than 30% of fats, of which saturated fats ≤ 7-10% of the total daily caloric content, polyunsaturated fats ≤ 10%, monounsaturated fats ≤ 15%, cholesterol < 300 mg/day.
The versatility of fats. Benefits and harms.

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