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Know More about Fat

When it comes to fats and cholesterol, a lot of people naturally want to keep their distance, because all they can think of is weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other health problems. But in fact, fat is an important nutrient, just like protein and carbohydrates, that our bodies need for energy. So let's look at fat in depth.

The function of fats

Fats play many roles inside our body. These include:

  1. Fat stores energy, which can be converted and released when our body need. The subcutaneous fat (the layer of fat directly beneath our skin) also serves as an insulator, which helps maintain our body temperature.

  2. Most fat are found in adipose tissues, which surround and protect our body's internal organs.

  3. Fat serves as a medium for transporting and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.

  4. Fat is an essential ingredient in the production of cholesterol, vitamin D, bile acid, and certain hormones.

  5. Fat ensures the proper functioning of our nervous system and our skin.

The types and origins of fats

Fat is made up of glycerol and fatty acids. Two types of fats are commonly found in food.

  1. Unsaturated fat

    Unsaturated fat can be subdivided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat helps reduce the level of low-density lipoprotein (also known as “bad” cholesterol) in the blood stream and prevents blockage of the arteries. Monounsaturated fats are thus very beneficial to health. Polyunsaturated fats contain linoleic acid and linolenic acid, both of which are essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by our body, and can only be absorbed through the consumption of food. So these kind of fatty acids are very important to our health. They facilitate blood flow, maintain normal blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system. Moderate consumption of unsaturated fats can reduce the level of total cholesterol in the blood.

    Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature. They are usually found in vegetable oil such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil and corn oil, as well as in seeds such as watermelon seeds and pine seeds, and nuts such as walnuts and cashews.

    Please note: When vegetable oils are subjected to hydrogenation process, they will convert to trans fat which will increase the level of bad cholesterol and reduce the good cholesterol in the blood if taking in excess. Therefore, it is recommended to limit intake of trans fat, including food items with trans fat containing margarine and shortening, as well as fried food and bakery products (e.g. pastries and crackers) in which trans fat and shortening are used as ingredients or in the cooking process.

  2. Saturated fats

    It increases clotting activity in the blood stream and thus developing arterial thickening, which leads to strokes, heart attack and other forms of damage. Saturated fat also stimulates the production of cholesterol by our liver. Therefore excessive levels of saturated fats cause an increase in “bad” cholesterol that impedes blood flow, and causes more damage to your health than direct consumption of dietary cholesterol.

    Saturated fat is solid at room temperature. They are usually found in animal fats such as meat, butter, lard, cream, and egg yolks. There are also some plant-based saturated fat, such as coconut oil and palm oil.


Moderate consumption of fats

Both unsaturated and saturated fat contain the same amount of energy, so over consumption will result in overweight. Beware of the "hidden" and “partially hidden” fat content of foods such as pork chop, duck, goose, cheese, ice cream, chocolate, salad dressing, nut and snack. Dietitians recommend that fat should make up no more than 30% of your daily energy intake. Saturated fat, in particular, should make up less than 10% of your energy intake.

It is important to maintain a balanced diet. Eat more vegetables than meat, select lean meats trimmed of fat, and use an appropriate cooking method in order to reduce your fat intake. Avoid deep-frying and putting oil when marinating the meat. Use steaming, braising, baking, poaching, boiling, roasting, and other methods rather than frying. The use of a microwave oven and non-stick frying pan also helps to reduce the amount of oil in food preparation.