What is Fat and Why is It Essential?

Fats are organic compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They belong to a group called lipid which exists in solid or liquid form. Liquid fat is unsaturated and plant-based while solid fat is saturated and animal-based. However, there are 3 exceptions; coconut and palm oils are solid and fish oils are liquid at room temperature. Despite the differences in their structure, both fats play important roles biologically and physiologically.

Fat as major source of body fuel and delivery vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins

Fat serves as concentrated source of energy by contributing 9 kcal per gram, providing more than twice as much as carbohydrate and protein (4kcal/g). Although fat provides the highest in terms of calories per gram, it does not act as the primary source of energy. During resting period or performing low-to-moderate-intensity exercise, fat supplies most of the energy to the body. Apart from that, fat is needed for the absorption, digestion and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K).

Fat provides satiety or feeling of fullness

Consuming fat does not necessarily make one put on weight. In fact, it can help one shed few kilograms. Fat contributes to the satiety sensation by slowing down the gastric emptying and intestinal transit. As the food is kept in the digestive tract for longer period of time, it provides longer satiety. Apart from that, fat appears to be responsible in the secretion of “full” hormone, leptin, which will provide satiety sensation by decreasing the appetite.

Fat protects vital organs

Not only it is located beneath the skin, it also surrounds the vital organs such as kidneys and heart to form a protective cushion. Without this extra padding, our organs would be vulnerable or prone to damage.

Fat contributes the palatability sensation

Fat is known to increase and improve the palatability of the food. To simplify, fat does a great job in making the food more delicious or pleasant. Let’s take eating steak as an example, the lower marble score meat produces less juice as compared to the higher score one. Fat influences the tenderness of the meat by enhancing its water holding capacity and lubricating the muscle fibers during cooking process. In subsequent, it stimulates the production of saliva during chewing and influence meat’s juiciness. However, it is not a ticket for one to consume fat in uncontrollable manner. Always remember that moderation is always the key for healthy eating.

Regulation of sex hormone and component of cell membrane.

You need fat not only as major fuel for your body, but it is also necessary for the regulation and production of the sex hormone like estrogen and progesterone. Essential fat makes up a part of the cell membrane which is responsible to control what goes in and out of the cell. In other words, it attributes to the flexibility and fluidity of the cell membrane that are vital for proper communication of the cells.

Whilst fat is essential for proper body functioning, not all fats are created equally. What matters is the quality of the fat ingested rather than quantity. A nutritious diet does not mean cutting the fat out but choosing the fat right.


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