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Fats – An Important Source of Energy in Human Diet

Fats are the major source of energy

We always blame fats for augmenting and elevating the risk of several life threatening diseases. By analysing carefully you will come to know that the statement made earlier is correct to some extent, but other factors such as intake of high carbohydrates, added sugars, trans-fats, low fibre diet, less physical activity, stress and sedentary life style are equally or sometimes more responsible in causing such diseases.

Fats are the major source of energy in our diet (1gram of fat provides 9 kcal of energy) but we often emphasise on reducing the fat intake. On the other hand we gallop lots of refined carbohydrates and added sugars which simply results in obesity. While doing so, we often ignore the importance of nutrient-dense food rich in healthy unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils. Fats help in the transportation and absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). They also serve as the reservoir of energy at the time of starvation, spares protein from being used for providing energy to the body. It allows the protein to properly perform its function of regulating growth.

 Excess intake of saturated fat

Saturated fatty acids (SFA) and Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) can be synthesized in our body. Excess intake of saturated fat (e.g. butter, pure ghee, milk fat, coconut oil, palm oil, margarine and vanaspati) and dietary cholesterol (e.g. mutton, pork/ham, whole milk, cheese, egg yolk, glandular meat like brain and kidney) raises the LDL and blood cholesterol level. While, replacing them with prescribed amount of MUFA (e.g. olive oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil) and PUFA (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids) which are of two types omega 6 (e.g. sun flower, sesame and corn oil) and omega 3 (canola, olive, rapeseed, mustard, soyabean, fish oils, GLVs methi (fenugreek), almonds, soya, flax and hemp seeds) in diet helps to decrease the blood cholesterol and LDL levels.

Oleic acid is one of the MUFA that enhances insulin sensitivity and therefore helpful in t2dm (type 2 diabetes). Some studies have shown that it has metformin like effect, which is the most commonly prescribed drug to treat t2dm. It suppresses VLDL-TAG secretion in the liver therefore helps in atherogenic dyslipidaemia. It can also be useful for obese people, as it improves glucose tolerance and maintain balance between energy intake and expenditure. It reduces oxidative stress caused by saturated fatty acids. Rich sources of MUFA are olive oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil and to some extent mustard oil. Oleic acid is also present in olive, canola, sesame and sunflower oil. These oils also contain PUFA and remains in liquid state at room temperature.

Omega – 3 (n-3) fatty acids are known to have lipid lowering and blood pressure reducing capabilities. These are even helpful in reducing platelet aggregation and monocyte adherence. Along with olive, canola, soybean, fish oils are very good source of Omega -3.

Flax seeds are popular these days because of their antioxidant, lipid, glycaemic lowering characteristics

Flax seeds are popular these days because of their antioxidant, lipid, glycaemic lowering characteristics. Flax seeds are rich in linolenic acid, dietary fibres and lignans, therefore it shows good results in reducing weight. Apart from linolenic acid its other derivatives belongs to omega-3 family which includes SDA, EPA, DHA, i.e. stearidonic acid, eicosepentanoic acid, and docohexaenoic acid. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid is essential for normal brain development. DHA is found predominantly in seafood, fish oil, breast-milk and supplemented formula.

Essential fatty acids present in safflower

Omega – 6 (n-6) fatty acids are also one of the essential fatty acids present in safflower, sun flower, sesame and corn oil. Essential fatty acids are needed for synthesis of important eicosanoids which helps in different functions like blood pressure control, pregnancy, blood clotting, immune & inflammatory responses and stomach secretions.

Fats also have non-glyceride components like Vitamin E, carotenoids, sesame lignans, oryzanols and phenols that have antioxidant effects and are hypocholesetrolemic (low levels of cholesterol). Inclusion of almonds (rich in n-3) and walnuts (rich in n-3 as well as n-6) in a balanced diet enhances the antioxidant status of the body, as both contain tocopherol and other phenolic compounds. They also have beneficial effects on glucose homeostasis, serum cholesterol and inflammation.

EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) mostly consist MUFAs (oleic acid)

Mediterranean diets (high consumption of vegetables and olive oils) are considered to be cardio-protective. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) mostly consist MUFAs (oleic acid), PUFAs, tocopherol, polyphenols. These are the bioactive components that make the EVOO unique and special. EVOO act as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and vasodilatory nutrient that may contribute to lower the atherosclerotic burden, as it improves HDL levels and decrease LDL and triglyceride level.

Avocado is a fruit, low in sugar, high in water and dietary fibres

Avocado is a fruit, low in sugar, high in water and dietary fibres but contains 15% of MUFA rich oil that makes it different from other fruits. Goodness of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals such as lutein, phenolic antioxidants and phytoesterols are add on qualities of this fruit therefore its consumption is associated with improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome by lowering body weight, BMI, waist circumference and increase of HDL (good cholesterol).

Trans fats adversely affect a diverse range of Cardio Vascular Disease risk factors: they raise LDL-C, raise triglycerides, lower HDL-C, increase inflammation, promote endothelial dysfunction, and may promote hepatic fat synthesis, resulting in far greater risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease. Trans-fatty acids are present in the vanaspati and margarines that can metabolically raise blood cholesterol levels. Its major source in human diets is commercially baked foods, deep fried snacks in vanaspati and sweets.

Recommended Intake

Recommended intake for PUFA should be up to 10% of total calories, MUFA up to 15% of total calories. An individual should also take minimum Cholesterol of less than 300 milligrams per day. The ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 in diet should be between 5-10 (5:1-10:1) is considered healthy for individuals. Dietary guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Dietary Reference Intakes recommend a total fat intake between 20 and 30% of total calories. The minimum of 15% is to ensure adequate consumption of total energy, essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins and prevent atherogenic dyslipidemia. SFAs should be greater then 10% of calories.

If u really want to reduce the risk related to fat intake, it is essential to

  • Avoid bakery products, deep fried snack, processed food containing TFAs,
  • Modify your cooking by using non-stick pan, less greasy gravy and toppings of extra ghee.
  • Prefer veggies over non veg, including fish in your diet would be a healthy option.
  • Homemade soup are better than creamed soups, steaming, boiling and stewing should be preferred over frying.
  • Prefer skimmed milk, its yoghurt and cottage cheese.

So, avoid unfriendly fats and accept friendly fats. Stay Healthy. Stay Blessed.


About the Author: Basirat Fatma, Nutrition & Dietetics Expert, (Earlier Associated with PGI, Chandigarh, India)

For queries or consultation related to nutrition and dietetics you can reach me through contact[at]

Disclaimer: The content above is a reasoned advice only; readers should check their current medical condition before practicing. Author/Portal will not be responsible for any loss, damage or injury.