Fat is the leader of the evil empire, right? Well, maybe fat isn’t as evil as you would like to think!
Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin
I write a lot about weight loss and fat loss and how these contribute to health. You have got to remember, however, that fat is not a villain. It is an important nutrient for the health of your body and should not be ignored or disdained.
The six dietary components necessary to the health of your body are protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Of these, protein, fats, and minerals are used to help build the various components and systems of your body. Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the sources of energy for your body.
FAT AS A STORED ENERGY SOURCE
One of the first functions you normally are aware of is that fat is a major source of energy stored in the body. While carbohydrates and protein are also sources of energy, they are not as efficient as fat. While fat provides approximately nine calories per gram, protein and carbohydrates only provide approximately 4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates are normally stored in the body as glycogen, a form of glucose found in the liver and muscles. While some glycogen is stored to provide quick energy, about four pounds of water are required to support one pound of glycogen making it not very desirable or efficient as a stored energy source.
GLYCOGEN VS FAT FOR THOSE IN EXERCISE PROGRAMS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
While sustained physical activity is great for weight loss, many people put the pedal to the metal and try to go as fast as they can whether running, swimming, walking, or doing aerobics. Unfortunately, activities such as these when done at high intensity levels tend to deplete the body’s stores of glycogen first. Since the activity cannot normally be sustained, most of the energy used up comes from the glycogen stores. A slower version of the same exercise, done over a longer period of time (a 45 minute walk versus a 10 minute run, for example) will not trigger the release of the body’s glycogen stores, but, as energy is needed, will cause the breakdown of fat for use as an energy source.
While protein is also a potential source of energy, your body cannot store protein per se. The protein “stored” in your body is in use in the form of muscle or other tissue. In fact, protein is even used to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen to every part of your body. If the body needs protein for energy, it has to begin breaking down an existing structure, such as a muscle. Hmm! The heart and diaphragm are muscles aren’t they?
WEIGHT LOSS AND PROTEIN LOSS
If you want to lose weight, one of the most important items in your arsenal can be a good structure of lean muscle mass. Muscle tends to burn more calories than fat. Also, if you have built good muscles with lots of lean muscle mass, you are more likely to be active, burning even more calories. If, however, you restrict your intake of fat to extremely low levels, your body may begin breaking down existing muscle tissue to supply its energy needs. This means less lean muscle mass, fewer calories burned at rest, and less strength and willingness or ability to participate in calorie burning activities.
The bottom line is that, as stored energy, your body cannot find anything better than fat.
OTHER BENEFITS OF FAT In addition to this energy service, fat also has a few other benefits for your body.
In addition to being a source of energy, some forms of fat, called fatty acids, are one of the building blocks of the cell membranes which surround every cell in the body. The manner in which the cell responds to hormones, participates in the supply of nutrients and disposal of waste is dependent upon the health and integrity of these cell membranes.
Fat helps to keep your skin essentially watertight and appropriately moist, and is very important to your nerves, assisting them in the speedy transmission of signals. Fat is also important for certain hormones, known as eicosanoids. These are critical for various functions regulating events such as inflammation, blood pressure and clotting, and labor. A little known fact is that an animal which is lacking appropriate levels of fat cannot go into labor.
FAT AND VITAMINS
Without going into a major discussion of vitamins, you should be aware that some vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin E, require fat for proper absorption and use by your body.
FAT AND CHOLESTEROL
While fat was generally touted for many years as a contributing factor in high cholesterol, studies have been emerging showing that there are good forms of cholesterol (HDL) and bad forms of cholesterol (LDL). Some forms of fat (polyunsaturated fats) actually improve the levels of these good forms of cholesterol, some increase the bad cholesterol and good cholesterol (saturated fats), and some (monounsaturated fats) have a relatively neutral effect.
EXAMPLES OF TYPES OF FATS
Saturated Fats: These tend to be solid at room temperature. Found mostly in meat and dairy products, some vegetable oils, such as coconut and palm oils (tropical oils) and butter (as opposed to margarine).
Polyunsaturated Fats: These are mostly from plant sources such as: safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and cottonseed.
Monounsaturated Fats: These fats come from both plant and animal products, such as olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. Some plants, such as avocados, may also be sources of monounsaturated fats.
Let’s remember this about fats in general. Like almost everything in life, too much is bad and too little is bad. Take in too much fat and you may have problems with heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Take in too little, and you may have problems with dry skin, immune system problems and decreased disease resistance, menstrual difficulties, loss of muscle mass, and retardation of childrens’ growth.