Why do we need "fats" in a balanced diet?

We have already discussed the importance of "proteins" in detail in the previous blog.

Now we are going to discuss the importance of "fats" in a balanced diet.

Let us first get an idea about fats.

What are fats? We hear about these all the time. Do we really know what are fats and what they supposed to do to our body? well here is a little description of fats.


Fats consist of a wide group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and largely insoluble in water. Chemically, fats are generally triesters of glycerol and fatty acids. Fats may be either solid or liquid at normal room temperature, depending on their structure and composition.

Although the words "oils", "fats", and "lipids" are all used to refer to fats, "oils" is usually used to refer to fats that are liquids at normal room temperature, while "fats" is usually used to refer to fats that are solids at normal room temperature. "Lipids" is used to refer to both liquid and solid fats, along with other related substances. The word "oil" is used for any substance that does not mix with water and has a greasy feel, such as petroleum (or crude oil) and heating oil, regardless of its chemical structure.

Fats or lipids are broken down in the body by enzymes called lipases produced in the pancreas.

Examples of edible animal fats are lard (pig fat), fish oil, and butter or ghee. They are obtained from fats in the milk, meat and under the skin of the animal. Examples of edible plant fats are peanut, soya bean, sunflower, sesame, coconut, olive, and vegetable oils.

Margarine and vegetable shortening, which can be derived from the above oils, are used mainly for baking.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in conjunction with fats. Fats are also sources of essential fatty acids, an important dietary requirement.

Fats play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. They also serve as energy stores for the body. Fats are broken down in the body to release glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver and thus used as a source of energy.

Fat also serves as a useful buffer towards a host of diseases. When a particular substance, whether chemical or biotic—reaches unsafe levels in the bloodstream, the body can effectively dilute—or at least maintain equilibrium of—the offending substances by storing it in new fat tissue. This helps to protect vital organs, until such time as the offending substances can be metabolized and/or removed from the body by such means as excretion, urination, accidental or intentional bloodletting, sebum excretion, and hair growth.

While it is nearly impossible to remove fat completely from the diet, it would be unhealthy to do so. Some fatty acids are essential nutrients, meaning that they can't be produced in the body from other compounds and need to be consumed in small amounts. All other fats required by the body are non-essential and can be produced in the body from other compounds.

In animals, adipose, or fatty tissue is the body's means of storing metabolic energy over extended periods of time. Depending on current physiological conditions, adipocytes store fat derived from the diet and liver metabolism or degrade stored fat to supply fatty acids and glycerol to the circulation. These metabolic activities are regulated by several hormones (i.e., insulin, glucagon and epinephrine). The location of the tissue determines its metabolic profile: "Visceral fat" is located within the abdominal wall (i.e., beneath the wall of abdominal muscle) whereas "subcutaneous fat" is located beneath the skin (and includes fat that is located in the abdominal area beneath the skin but above the abdominal muscle wall).

One important fact to remember about abdominal fat is that fat stored under the muscle wall is not so dangerous. It is also a sours of energy in dire circumstances. However, the fat stored under the skin of abdominal wall is considered extremely dangerous. Studies (so far) have proven conclusively that such fat is prone to cause heart attacks. Therefore, every effort must be taken to eliminate this excess fat (beer belly) through measures such as physical exercise and a balanced diet.


Frequently asked question is:

How many kind of fats there are and what kind of fats we need to consume in a healthy and balanced diet?

There are three kind of fats.

1. Saturated or Animal Fats (are usually solid at room temperature) .

2. Unsaturated or vegetable fats (are liquid at room temperature).

3. Trans-fats (are solid at room temperature)

Saturated fats are derived from animal & are major cause of heart disease. Therefore, one should avoid Saturated fats as much as possible. These fats are found in meat, cheese, egg ( egg yolk ), & diary products. Body has difficulty metabolizing these fats (causing weight gain) and may cause narrowing of the arteries. When the arteries of the heart are involved, it leads to heart attack & possible sudden death. When the arteries of the brain are involved, it causes stroke.

Unsaturated fats are again divided into :-

Mono-unsaturated &

Mono-unsaturated fats

These fats are considered one of the healthiest type. It is found mainly in olive oil, canola oil, nuts & seeds. Mono-unsaturated fats help to lower the bad cholesterol (low density proteins or generally called LDL) which causes blocked arteries.

Poly-unsaturated Fats

These fats are healthier than saturated fats, though less healthier than mono-unsaturated one. This is because it may reduce the good cholesterol (high density proteins, generally known as HDL), as well as bad cholesterol (LDL).

Nevertheless, within the polyunsaturated fats there are two very important essential fatty acids ( EFA )

i, OMEGA 6 FATTY ACID ( e.g. Linoleic Acid )
It is found in unrefined safflower, corn sesame & sunflower oils.

ii, OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS ( e.g. Alpha-Linolenic Acid )
is found in oily fish, linseed or flax oil. soybean oil, hemp oil, and oil from
pumpkin seeds, walnuts & green vegetables.

Both these EFA are vital for good health. They regulate mental health, growth & vitality. They are also believed to assist the transport & uptake of oxygen throughout the body. EFA deficiency is believed to associated cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis & many other degenerative diseases.


Most trans-isomer fats (commonly called trans fats, which the food industry loves but our heart & blood vassals hate), are commercially produced rather than naturally occurring. Trans-fats are formed by hydrogenating saturated (animal fat). Food industries find it useful because it has lasting ability & can be preserved for a long time.

of Trans-fats

They really kill you in 4 ways by :-

a, Increasing the bad cholesterol (LDL).
b, Decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL)
c, Increasing the tendency of platelets to clump, thereby increasing the risk of clotting blood & risking heart attacks, strokes, etc.
d.firing immune system into over activity which is implicated in Heart Disease, Strokes, Diabetes & other chronic conditions.

All the fast foods Industries, e.g. MacDonald's, Jolly Bee, KFC, Burger King e.t.c. use trans-fats.


Remember ! !

Longer you stay away from Jolly Bee, MacDonald's, KFC, Burger King & all other fast foods
Restaurants, longer you live.

Rule of thumb is

'If fat is solid at room temperature, stay away from it and do not use it for cooking purposes.'

If you wish to lose weight,

Remember !

All oils are high in calories. Therefore, should be consumed sparingly, if you are planning to lose excess weight.

For comments and questions please write to:


10/5/2008 8:12:45 PM
Syed Shahid MD
Written by
Dr Syed Shahid MD Dr Shahid received his medical degree ( MBBS ) from Punjab University (Pakistan) in 1963. He did his post-graduation in Internal Medicine in UK. After that he proceeded to USA, where he got Board Certification in Family Practice, Psychiatry & Neurology. Dr Shahid also has extensive study in many o...
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