Do fats make you fat?

“You are what you eat” an old myth that demonizes fats. It clearly intuits that fats will just end up making you fatter. But the truth is far from it. Fats are necessary for survival. A small amount of fat (good fat) is required by the body for proper functioning and also for prevention of heart diseases. Fats provide a lot of energy – 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, much more than a gram of protein or carbohydrate which both contain 4 calories per gram. Also fatty acids like omega-3 may provide other health benefits such as improving the cognitive processes of the brain. Although we need good fat, a large amount of fat can be extremely detrimental for the body.

So what is good/bad fat?

Unsaturated fats are known to be the good fats in comparison with saturated fats. The reason behind this is that saturated fats are made up of saturated fatty acids and their molecular structure forms regular shapes that bind together easily. However for unsaturated fats it’s the other way around. Due to irregularities in their molecular structures it is harder for fatty acids of unsaturated fats to clump together. So clearly saturated fats are more likely to stick to the walls of arteries and allow other saturated fat molecules to build up; this can gradually clog the arteries leading to higher blood pressure which may even cause heart attacks.

But the concept of saturated fats is highly debatable since these have certain health benefits as well such as improving bone density, development of neural and immune systems. So it’s hard to draw a clear spectrum of good fats to bad here. Although all fats contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids but choosing foods which contain higher amounts of unsaturated fat, and less saturated fat, is advisable.

A few examples of saturated fats are meats, full-fat dairy, processed foods, etc.

TRANS FATS-Another type of “bad fats” that can be very damaging if consumed more than a certain recommended limit. These are normal fat molecules that have been deformed during a process called hydrogenation. These include fried foods, commercially baked or packaged foods and foods containing “partially hydrogenated” oil. Try avoiding these or at least reduce these whenever you eat out or buy food products from outside. Also make sure that the olive oil you use for cooking is pure and has not been mixed with other unhealthy oils. Remember, absolutely no amount of trans fats is healthy so these should to avoided as much as possible.

Some healthier choices that can be made everyday with regard to fats:

• Add more mono-unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts, natural peanut butter, etc and poly-unsaturated fats like walnuts, flax seeds, fatty fish oils (salmon, tuna, trout) and soy milk to your diet.

• If you don’t eat fish, consider taking omega-3 supplement or obtaining omega-3 from flax seeds since omega-3 has support a healthy pregnancy, sharpen your memory, help fight depression, ADHD, dementia.

• Wiser choices can also be made by avoiding red meat and replacing this with chicken, eggs, fish and even complete vegetable sources for proteins.

• Talk to the person serving you when you eat outside and ask him if the oil being used is pure olive oil or not.

• Replace unhealthy snacks such as fries, chips and cookies with healthier alternatives such as chia crackers, peanut butter cookies and nuts.

• Eat well cooked or grilled meals instead of fried meals.

• Check ingredients of foods and make sure they contain unsaturated fats and do not contain partially hydrogenated oils.

The healthy/unhealthy tag given to foods depends on eating appropriate portions. Eat the perfect amount of food that you need for achieving your fitness goals. Overconsumption of even the most “healthy” foods can make them “unhealthy.”

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