A few years ago, a lot of obese and overweight people were astonished by the promising new diet trend called the low fat diet approach. The advocates of this theory tried to back up their hypothesis by some scientific argumentation.
In comparison to carbohydrates and proteins, which provide only 4 calories per gram, fats provide a whooping 9 calories per gram of intake. By simple calculation: 100 grams of carbohydrates or proteins provide only 400 calories whereas the same quantity of fat would provide 900 calories… In addition to this, the most frequent reasons forcing people to lower their fat intake in their nutrition regimen are weight loss/ maintenance and prevention /treatment of various diseases e.g. heart diseases, high blood cholesterol leading to atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and even cancer. However, it should be pointed out, that fat has several essential functions for the human body as it is the main component of the cell membrane. Furthermore, cholesterol serves as the nucleus of the main hormones produced in the human body which help regulate blood pressure, heart rate, nervous system etc. Dietary fat also acts as carriers for the fat soluble vitamins –vitamin A, D, E, and K absorbed from the ingested food. It also helps maintaining healthy hair and skin, protecting vital organs, and keeping the human body insulated.
Unfortunately, the mass media led fat phobia persuaded people to cut fats completely from their nutrition program thus regarding diverse types of fats as the chief culprit for all the aforementioned health conditions.
Therefore, one should differentiate between the bad (harmful) fats and the good fats.
Bad fats (namely saturated fats and trans fatty acids) on the one hand were labeled by this name because they tend to worsen blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats for example are found in meat, whole milk diary products (cheese, milk and ice cream), poultry skin, and egg yolks. In addition to this, some plant foods are also high in saturated fats, including coconut and coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil and other tropical oils. Trans fats or trans fatty acids are fats produced by adding hydrogen to a vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. The more hydrogenated an oil is, the harder it will be at room temperature and the more health damaging effect it will possess. Hydrogenated fats are a main ingredient present in commercial baked goods, margarines, snack foods and processed foods. Commercially prepared fried foods like French fries, onion rings and doughnuts also contain a good amount of trans fats.
Good fats on the other hand ameliorate blood cholesterol levels. They are found in products derived from plant sources such as vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. They can be categorized into 3 main groups.
a) Polyunsaturated fats which are found in high concentration in sunflower, corn, and soybean oils.
b) Monounsaturated fats which are found in high concentration in canola, peanut and olive oils.
c) Omega-3-fatty acids which are mostly found in seafood. Good sources include salmon, mackerel and herring. Flaxseeds, flax oil and walnuts also contain omega-3-fatty acids.
As a matter of fact, it is becoming more and more evident that what really matters in a low fat diet is the type of fat present in the nutrition program. Here, the key is to substitute healthy fats for their bad counterparts, thus combining maximum health benefits with a minimal and unnecessary calorie load.