As a food group, oils and fats have courted a lot of controversy. Health professionals declared fat to be the villain and the cause of many diseases. Now they say that fasts are not all that bad after all. Many have also said that fat is not to be blamed as it is all in your genes and eating or not eating fast does not make a difference.
To put things in perspective, it is not as extreme as it seems. The verdict on fats is still stable. But first we have to understand what is fat and why we need it. Fat is a waxy substance found in all planet and animal food. It is not just the extracted fat that we eat. We also consume the hidden fat in all foods.
Fats and oils are required by the human body for many functions – as part of cell membranes, hormones and as part of biological messengers, it is also part of skin and tissue and nerve coverings.
Fat imbalance can be in the form of deficiency or over consumption. In case of deficiency you have dry scaly skin, hair fall, eye problems, hormonal problems; and overdose can result in weight gain, inflammation, cholesterol, asthma and other problems.
There are two types of fats and oils – plant derived which are mostly liquid at room temperature with the exception of coconut oil and solid fats, which are mostly animal derived.
All oils and fats consist of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. Plant oils have a higher ratio of polyunsaturates and monounsaturates vis a vis the saturated fatty acids.
There are some terms, which are used very frequently in describing fats and oils like saturation, hydrogenation and omega 3 fatty acids.
Saturation of any fat/oil refers to the number of atoms, which rebounded with hydrogen. Higher the saturation, more the likelihood of the fat being solid at room temperature.
These kinds of fats are the ones which have been linked with cholesterol deposits when we overboard eating them. Unsaturated oil means that the atoms have fewer bonds and such oils are liquid at room temperature. When the bonds are very few, then they are called polyunsaturated like corn oil, safflower oil and when the bonds are little more than that it is called monounsaturated like olive oil. Monounsaturated oils are beneficial to heart patients.
Oils and fats can be derived from many sources like nuts – walnuts, almonds, (good for heart) seeds-sesame seeds, flaxseed (good for heart), cotton seed oil, grape seed oil, rapeseed oil, mustard seed oil (good for heart), cereals and pulses – soy oil rice bran oil (good for heart).
Oil consumption should be less than 30 percent of the total dietary calories. Secondly, oil rotation is a must because each oil has some essential fatty acids.
When the oil is heated beyond the smoking point it undergoes some structural changes and is unhealthy so deep-frying is toxic for the body.
Different oils for different diseases and more about omega 3 fatty acids in the next article.