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October - November 2005


Health

Some Facts About Fat in Your Diet

by Rajinder P. Varma


Some of us relate to fat in our diet as eating something dreadful. This is not the case as I shall explain in detail. We imagine that by consuming fat our lithesome, beautiful body will turn into a big and ugly monster figure, making us clumsy and awkward. But the fact is that we all need a certain amont of fat in our diet for our bodies to function properly. The World Health Organisation recommends that we need about 30g of fat a day to maintain good health. Fat is also one of the necessary constitutents for a balanced diet.

Supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury, together with other food outlets, are showing a greater awareness of the benefits of less fat in food and are marketing their range of foods with labels such as ‘fat free’, ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced fat’. They have on offer a wide range of products, all aimed at the diet conscious consumer and promting a healthier lifestyle. Their own brands bear enticing logos ‘Good for You’ ‘Healthy Eating’ and their own free magazines feature articles suggesting the right kind of foods to include in a healthy diet. The media in general haven taken the lead and cashed in on the need for all of us to improve our diet with the latest TV presentation ‘You are what you eat’ being a typical example of how a selected few can overeat themselves into poor health through eating all the wrong foods containing too much fat and not enough fruit and vegetables. This results in becoming overweight which is an even greater health hazard to one’s wellbeing as obesity leads to other health problems.

Fat is classified of three main types; known as saturated, Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The type is determined by the number of free ‘links’ in the chemical structure. Saturated fat, (which is usually solid at room temperature) is mainly found in butter, ghee, cheese, lard, hydrogenated vegetables or meat etc. It is considered harmful as it deposits or forms a plaque inside the arteries (which supply fresh blood to all parts of the body and the heart muscles, which pump the blood). It narrows the arteries leading to possible heart diseaseas such as angina, high blood pressure, strokes etc. and can contribute to an early death. Cutting down on saturated fats will reap many benefits as your GP will advise and recommend.

Apart from being a concentrated source of energy, fat has several other functions. Food containing fat is more palatable, since fats help the flavours to mingle and facilitate swallowing. Fats satisfy the appetite, not only because they are high in calories, but also because they slow down digestion, keeping the stomach full for a longer period. The fatty tissues store the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K. Fat is stored under the skin to help keep the body warm, and it cushions the vital organs to protect them against impact and hold them in place. Stored fat can be used as fuel if the body is deprived of food for any length of time. Fat is a concentrated source of energy; for example, one gram of fat provides 9 calories compared to one gram of protein or carbohyderates which provide only 4 calories.

Nutritionists suggest that it is better to use alternatives to fat such as olive or sunflower oil. Olive oil is used in mediterranean cooking to a great extent; therefore promoting longevity and fewer heart problems. If butter or ghee is preferred and suits your taste it should be used in moderation, but always consult your GP for any reassurance.

Excess use of any fat is dangerous for health. It can or may lead to other health problems such as obesity, overweight, breathlessness, arthritis and other joint associated problems, diabetes, angina, heart attack or stroke and some types of cancer (for instance bowel cancer).

Try to avoid or reduce intake of foods which contain large amounts of saturated fat such as: snacks like samosas, parathas, purees, pakoras and other fried dishes. Fried food has lot of fat and is hard to digest. The high temperature changes the fat content into harmful fat). Butter, margarine and Indian sweets should be avoided. Ready meals, pies, pasties, burgers, cream cheese, mayonnaise etc. contain large amount of fat.

Also avoid biscuits, cakes, chips, crisps and chocolate. Red meat contains large quantities of saturated fat. Try changing to food which contain less saturated fat. These are:
Fish ( contains omega 3 fatty acids) essential fats, chicken (low in saturated fat) and olive oil, groundnut oil, sunflower oil or coconut oil.

For dessert: Always in moderation. Fat should be for health and not for taste.

More Health

More articles by Rajinder P. Varma

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