FAT - Salad Dodgers

Salad Dodgers - Sian Brooks personal trainer
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 A Little bit of nutrition...

healthy_food-300x240.jpgOverall, nutrition is an essential part of any diet. What is the point in being slim and sexy if your body’s immune system is so low that you constantly have to fight off colds (not very sexy!) or your health is so poor you face a greater risk of premature death, harsh but true. Also important to remember is the fact that every individual is different in their daily requirements of vital nutrients. RDAs are provided as a guide based on general research outcomes for an entire population. Not everyone will be the same. A female distance runner for instance is going to require a far higher concentration of Iron in her diet compared to a sedentary male.

FAT!.... What is fat? Is it different to cholesterol? If it is so bad, why does our diet need to be 20% fat? How are fatty acids different from just plain old fat? What is the difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat...and mono, poly and trans fats? ...head explodes!

All good questions and ones asked on numerous occasions. I confuse myself sometimes!
Fat is a molecule of glycerides and fatty acid chains (science bit over). It can be soild or liquid at room temperature (ok, just a bit more) and is insoluble in water (sorry, Im afraid it’s impossible to explain this section without scientific reference!). The bigger the globule, the harder it is to metabolise and release energy. Fat is essential to everyday life as it plays a vital role in maintaining both hair and skin, it is the key component of insulation and buoyancy and is essential for the functioning of cells. Certain vitamins (A,D, K and E) can only be broken down by fat. They are fat soluble so without fat, none of these vitamins can be used, irrelevant of how much you eat of them. This is why people suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are at such a great risk of skin and hair deficiencies, poor sight, poor temperature regulation and impaired immune system. The glycerol component of fat is also broken down to glucose and used to provide energy whilst the remaining free fatty acids are used in cell function. This is why experts recommend that 20-25% of our diet is fat. Fat comes from both plants and animals and then can be sub-categorised in saturated and un saturated fat.

cooking-oil.jpgUnsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature, and generally termed an oil. Oils are smaller molecules and therefore easier to digest. Unsaturated fats are named according to the number of free hydrogen atoms they have free. The more hydrogen atoms an oil has free, the more readily it is broken down. Poly(meaning multi)unsaturated fats are oils with more than one hydrogen atom free and mono(meaning one)unsaturated fats mean that they only have one free hydrogen atom so if in the digestion process that single hydrogen atom is taken and bound to a different atom, to form, say water in the metabolism process(H2O), this monounsaturated fat would indeed become saturated. The same goes for poly-unsaturated except it just takes longer. When mono- and poly- unsaturated fats are digested and bits are broken down into their relative components they liberate Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids plus energy. Hence why they are considered “good” fats.

cheese2.jpgSaturated fat...is solid at room temperature. This is your lard and butter. Saturated fat is much harder to metabolise and requires large amounts of oxygen to do so. This doesn’t mean grab the nearest canister and get breathing. Saturated fats have a much greater impact on poor health simply because they are stored more readily in the body and accumulate in places we can’t see like blood vessels and around organs. The hydrogen atoms in a saturated fat molecule are all bonded by strong, single links which means that there are no “free” atoms available to split and liberate fatty acids and energy. This process requires are far more complex enzyme reactions. All in all, whether its saturated or unsaturated it is still fat and consuming too much means it will simply be stored in the body and left until it is required for energy. Of course, this will only happen once all the other more readily available energy sources such as carbohydrates and sugars have been used.

An additional fat which was asked about above is that of Trans-fatty acids. These are fats which are formed during a man made process call hydrogenation. This process is how we get margarine and involves the addition of hydrogen to unsaturated “oil” chains which changes the structure of the molecule and forming “trans-fat”. The resulting molecule is an oil that is actually solid or, partly solid as in margarine. Trans fatty acids and hydrogenated oils have been linked to a number of health disorders such as increased LDL(bad cholesterol) and lower HDL(good cholesterol), increased incidence of heart disease, increased prevalence of diabetes and cancers and low quality breast milk. This is why I bang on to my family about eating butter in lower quantities rather than using margarine. Although butter is a saturated fat, it is far healthier in small quantities than cheap margarines.


Image from modernherbalmedicine.com