2. What Are Fats?
2.1 Basic Composition
Fats, or hydrocarbons, are one of three food categories, the other two being proteins and carbohydrates.
Fats are composed of the same three elements as carbohydrates—carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. However, they are much poorer in oxygen and richer in carbon and hydrogen than are carbohydrates. Because of this higher carbon and hydrogen content, fats have a greater heat or energy equivalent than carbohydrates.
The fats found in plants are manufactured from water and carbon dioxide with the aid of chlorophyll, much in the same manner that the carbohydrates in a plant are produced. The fats found in humans and animals come from two sources: 1) from the fats in the diet and 2) from the metabolism of excess carbohydrates into fat. The greatest amount of fat in the body usually comes from carbohydrate metabolism.
As far as the human digestive process is concerned, fats are composed of two components: 1) glycerin (or glycerol) and 2) fatty acids.
Glycerin is the energy source of fats and is metabolized much in the same manner as are the carbohydrates. The glycerin is broken down into sugars which may be used by the body for fuel.
The fatty acids are often spoken of as chains of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms. Simplistically speaking, the fatty acids are to fat what the amino acids are to protein. These chains of fatty acids have links within them where additional hydrogen, oxygen or carbon atoms may be attached to the chain.
If hydrogen is attached to these links, the fat becomes it more solid. This is called hydrogenated fat.
All the solid vegetable fats, such as Crisco, margarines, etc., are hydrogenated. If oxygen is attached to one of, these fatty acid links, the fat becomes rancid. Thus, fats left exposed to the air begin to oxidize and become rancid rapidly.
2.2 Unsaturated, Saturated and Hydrogenated Fats
Fat that is unsaturated is composed of fatty acids in which one or more of the carbon atoms in the chain do not have all of their accompanying hydrogen atoms. In other words, unsaturated fatty acids have open available links in their chains.
These open links in fatty acid chains are important. The body is able to combine various nutrients with the fatty acid chains through these open links. This combination of nutrients and fatty acids allows both of them to be transported through the body where they can be used in building cell structure.
Animal fats contain very little unsaturated fats. The chief sources of unsaturated fatty acids are nuts and seeds. Almost all vegetable fats in their natural state have a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids.
The term polyunsaturated means that there is a large number of fatty acids which have two or more open links in their chains. These vegetable polyunsaturated fats are used in making margarine and shortening. This is done by the process of hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation causes liquid fats to become solidified by introducing hydrogen atoms into the open links of the fatty acid chains. If a fat becomes completely hydrogenated, it is rock-hard. The process is controlled, however, so that varying consistencies of hydrogenated fats can be produced.
The hydrogenation process consists of heating the fats and oils to a temperature of 212 to 400 degrees. Hydrogen is then mixed in, along with Some catalytic agents, such as nickel or platinum. The fatty acids then take on the hydrogen atoms and begin to solidify.
The heating of the oils during this process destroys any vitamins that might be present. The addition of the hydrogen atoms fills the open links in the fatty acid chains and thus prevents nutrients from binding with the acids. As a result, hydrogenated fats can supply only empty calories and no nutritive value.
Since hydrogenated fats cannot become rancid (nor can they support life), they are manufactured extensively. Margarine, cooking fats, processed cheeses, lard and peanut butter are but a few products subjected to hydrogenation.
The saturated fats are found chiefly in animal fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, unlike the liquid unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal flesh, dairy products, eggs and coconuts. It should be noted that the saturated fats in coconuts have a different chemical structure.
Like hydrogenated fats, the saturated fats cannot enter into a nutrient bonding within the body. Consequently, they cannot be used effectively by the body in cellular composition than the saturated animal fats metabolism. The saturated fats are usually empty calories that contribute to a fat build-up within the body. They serve no useful function.
2.3 Cholesterol: Villain or Hero?
Accompanying the saturated animal fats is cholesterol, which can be considered a “cousin” to the fat family. Since cholesterol is generally discussed in terms of fats in the diet, this is an appropriate place for its inclusion.
Cholesterol is not a harmful substance as such. The body uses it in all of its tissues. It occurs in the brain, spinal column and skin. Cholesterol is part of the raw materials from which bile salts, sex and adrenal hormones and vitamin D are made. It combines with proteins to enable fats to be carried to the cells.
The liver produces all the cholesterol the body needs for its functions. In an average adult, about 3,000 milligrams of cholesterol are produced each day, regardless if cholesterol is present in the foods eaten or not.
When additional cholesterol enters the body through diet, an excess occurs. Typically, a person consuming animal products ingests about 800 milligrams of cholesterol a day. This extra cholesterol is deposited along the walls of the arteries throughout the body.
As these deposits grow, a condition known as atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries” occurs. The arteries become constricted and circulation is seriously impaired. This impaired circulation contributes to a wide variety of problems, including loss of hearing, baldness, shortness of breath, dizziness and heart attacks. All tissues the body are harmed since a reduced amount of oxygen and nutrients reach the cells.
Atheroschlerosis now affects a majority of Americans, regardless of age. Autopsies of infants less than one year old, many of them fed commercially prepared baby formulas, revealed large amounts of cholesterol already deposited within their arteries.
There is absolutely no need for saturated fats or cholesterol in the diet. The body manufactures all of its cholesterol needs. The consumption of additional amounts in the form of saturated animal fats destroys the health of the body at the cellular level.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. What Are Fats?
- 3. Fat Digestion
- 4. How The Body Uses Fat
- 5. Harmful Fats
- 6. The Use Of Fats In A Healthy Diet
- 7. Questions & Answers
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