The role of fats in our daily diet
Fats are often seen as the enemy of the most commonly followed diets, the scourge of the swimsuit season and the biggest obstacle to getting that perfect shape.
But the best solution is not to completely eliminate fats from our daily diets, but to consume them in the right amounts. That’s why we’d like to invite you to learn more about these organic compounds and why some of their functions are vital to our bodies.
“We’re fats, can we come in?” Here’s why consuming fats as part of our diet is vital for our bodies
What are fats? Fats, or lipids, are a varied group of substances which we generally assume only from foods of animal origin but they can actually be found in vegetable-based foods too. There are over 500 types of different fats, split into simple fats -the most common in our bodies -, compound fats and derived fats. Let’s learn about their main functions.
Fats are the main fuel source for our bodies. We produce double the amount of fats that we do of carbohydrates and proteins, meaning that we can count on a virtually limitless reserve of energy to draw on in order to survive even during prolonged periods without food.
Fats, particularly phospholipids, are components of cell membranes. And it’s thanks to them that exchanges of nutrients can take place within our bodies.
Without fats, we would not be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, which require fats to serve as a catalyst for them to be absorbed. This group of vitamins includes Vitamin E, which is found in extra virgin olive oil, in olive oil and in seed oils, and Vitamin K, which we find in a range of foodstuffs including tomatoes, spinach, cabbage and eggs. As such, a diet which is low in fats risks causing problems for our bodies due to failure to properly absorb vital substances.
The presence of fats in our bodies also ensures the optimum working of the central nervous system, helping to regulate our reflexes and mood. But that’s not all: for our brains, getting the right amount of lipids can – when combined with healthy lifestyle and dietary habits – contribute to the prevention of degenerative neurological diseases, as well as promoting psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Saturated and unsaturated fats: a useful difference to understand
Now that we’ve established the benefits that fats bring to our bodies, it’s important to understand that not all lipids are the same. One of the key distinctions is between saturated and unsaturated fats.
The main difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is found in their molecular structure: saturated fats are linear chains linked by single bonds, while unsaturated fats have at least one double bond. It’s this double bond that makes unsaturated fats unsaturated: it means that there’s still space to add hydrogen to the double bond and turn it into a saturated fat (which does not have any space for new additions).
Saturated fats are found in many foods that we consume on a daily basis. Most of saturated fatty acids are of animal origin: we find them in butter, lard, cream, fatty cheeses, cured meats and fatty meats. The main characteristic of saturated fats is that their chemical composition means that they play a role in increasing total cholesterol and the proportion of LDL cholesterol in the blood.
Fats contained in olive oil
The high percentage of monounsaturated fats in olive oil makes it a healthy foodstuff, since it improves the level of cholesterol in the blood and, as a result, the health of the cardio-circulatory system. Many modern studies have backed up the habits of ancient civilizations, who were the first to start using olive oil in their diets, by proving that olive oil is the best type of fat to use in our daily diets.
How much oil should we consume? According to the latest food pyramids from the leading research institutions, such as the Veronesi Foundation, we are advised to consume two to three 10g portions – around a spoonful – of olive oil a day.
How should we consume it? Olive oil is a great ally in the kitchen: its monounsaturated acids break down slowly, which – together with its high levels of antioxidant substances – means that it stands up well to oxidation, even when exposed to high temperatures or long cooking times. Extra virgin olive oil is excellent when used raw to dress or finish dishes, on account of its ability to bring out other flavors.