Diet & Nutrition

Healthy Fats: You need them!

Deepti Prasad
October 19, 2023

For many decades now, fats have been synonymous with innumerable health problems. During the perimenopausal and postmenopausal stages, the way fats are metabolised in the body is altered. This leads to a host of metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and stroke. But that does not mean we have to eliminate fats from our diet! 

numerable health problems. During the perimenopausal and postmenopausal stages, the way fats are metabolised in the body is altered. This leads to a host of metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and stroke. But that does not mean we have to eliminate fats from our diet! 

They are actually a very important and essential food group because they have so many important functions

  • Vital for functioning of the brain and nervous system 
  • Important source of energy 
  • Play a role in absorption of fat soluble vitamins- A, D, E and K.
  • Help in the regulation of temperature & keep us warm. 
  • Along with proteins, they form building blocks of the body & cells

So, the key is to understand the difference between good and bad fats, including the good fats while eliminating the bad fats. 

Good and bad fats: 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: These are good fats and are healthy for you. They improve the good cholesterol (yes, it exists) and help in reducing inflammation. Inflammation is considered a risk factor for heart diseases. These fats are mostly liquid at room temperature and are found in plant-based foods. Ex: vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados as well as pure, home made ghee from either cow or buffalo milk.

Omega-3 fats: They are a type of polyunsaturated fat that help protect against heart diseases and help in lowering blood pressure. These fats should be consumed several times a week as the body does not make them. Cold-water fish like mackerel, tuna and sardines are a good source but chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts also contain them in smaller amounts. 

Saturated fats: It is recommended to have them in moderation since medical opinion is divided regarding their risk to benefit ratio. Most are solids at room temperature. Red meats, butter, cheese, and ice cream are rich in saturated fats, so it is advisable to consume these foods in limited quantities.

Trans fat: This is the most harmful form of fat and traces of it are found in red meat, processed and packaged foods as well as fast foods. In almost all kinds of packaged foods,  the fats are hydrogenated, turning them into trans fats to increase the shelf life of the product. But unfortunately this doesn’t help our health, and is in fact harmful for our health. These trans fats raise the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in our blood and reduce the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. 

Which brings us to another word that strikes fear in our heart- literally. It’s Cholesterol.

What is cholesterol? Is there good and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance found in our body cells and liver. There are different types of cholesterol: 

Low-density lipoprotein or LDL- This is called "bad cholesterol" because it is responsible for fatty build ups in blood vessels. This narrows the arteries which leads to heart attacks and strokes. 

High density lipoprotein or HDL. This is "good cholesterol" because it has a protective effect on the heart and brain. It carries the bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. The liver then works to flush out the bad cholesterol from your body.

Triglycerides: Most fats we eat in food are stored in our blood in this form. A rise in their level signifies a risk of serious health complications. 

Cholesterol in food: 

The cholesterol content in our body includes both: that which is produced by the body and that which is consumed by us. Only about 20% cholesterol that we have in our body comes from the food we eat. For example: whole egg, red meat , mutton, refined products, fried items, chips, sweets, bakery etc. The rest 80% that is prepared by the body further gets categorized as LDL,HDL,Triglycerides and VLDL depending on its composition. So, it is important to eat the right amount of fats to balance it with the amount present in our body. 

We get cholesterol from both plant and animal sources. Eggs yolk, meat, fish, yogurt, butter are types of animal derived sources of cholesterol. Plant based sources of cholesterol like safflower or sunflower oil, mustard and mustard oil, flaxseeds, almonds, walnuts etc have an advantage over animal based sources in being easy to digest, having all essential amino acids and fatty acids and essential vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K. They help to lower the bad cholesterol- LDL and improve the good cholesterol- HDL.   

Cholesterol and Menopause: Is there a connection? 

When estrogen levels fall during menopause, it leads to an increase in the levels of bad cholesterol and decrease in levels of good cholesterol. This makes women susceptible to obesity and heart problems. It can be prevented by regular blood cholesterol level check-ups. An LDL count of 100 or less is considered healthy whereas an HDL count of 50 or more would be beneficial. Both together should add up to not more than 200. It is possible to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. A healthy diet, exercise and medication(if recommended by your doctor) would go a long way in keeping your cholesterol within limits.

Let’s conclude: 

Fat isn’t bad for you. Your body needs some fat from food. Fat provides you energy to power through the day, it helps absorb vital nutrients from the food you eat, and your body needs it to build cell membranes. You need fats to keep your muscles moving and to help in blood clotting. All you must do is consume more of the good fats, cut down on the not-so-good ones and eliminate the bad trans-fats completely from your diet.

“Dietary fats” Do the words trigger a sense of caution in you? The key is to understand the difference between good & bad fats - include the good fats, eliminate the bad fats.