Role Of Fats In Food: Types And Benefits

Fats are a fundamental component of our diet, playing a crucial role in the flavour, texture, and overall enjoyment of food. In Indian cuisine, fats are used in a variety of forms, from the ghee in rich gravies to the mustard oil in tangy pickles. Understanding the role of fats in our diet and how to use them effectively can help us make healthier choices while enjoying the culinary delights we love.

Fats are not only important for taste and texture but also for nutrition. They provide essential fatty acids, aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and are a key source of energy. Despite their bad reputation, not all fats are harmful. In fact, some fats are necessary for maintaining good health. The key lies in knowing the difference between various types of fats and using them wisely in our cooking.

Here is some knowledge to empower you to make informed decisions about the fats you consume, ensuring a balanced and flavourful diet.

What is Fat?

Fat is a macronutrient, alongside carbohydrates and proteins, that is essential for the body. It is composed of fatty acids and glycerol. Fats are categorised into different types based on their chemical structure and properties. They can be solid or liquid at room temperature and can be derived from both animal and plant sources.

Different Fats and Their Roles

Saturated Fats

Sources: Ghee, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and animal fats.

Role: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are known for their rich, creamy texture. They are often used in Indian cooking to add flavour and body to dishes. Ghee, a type of clarified butter, is a staple in Indian cuisine, known for its aromatic quality and ability to enhance the taste of food. While saturated fats can elevate the culinary experience, it is advisable to consume them in moderation, as excessive intake can lead to health issues like high cholesterol and heart disease.

Unsaturated Fats

Sources: Olive oil, mustard oil, sunflower oil, and nuts.

Role: Unsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are considered healthier than saturated fats. They are divided into monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). MUFAs, found in olive oil and mustard oil, are beneficial for heart health and can help reduce bad cholesterol levels. PUFAs, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are essential fats that the body cannot produce. They are found in oils like sunflower oil and in nuts and seeds. These fats play a vital role in brain function, inflammation regulation, and overall cardiovascular health.

Trans Fats

Sources: Partially hydrogenated oils, some margarines, and commercially baked goods.

Role: Trans fats are artificially created through a process called hydrogenation, which makes oils more solid. They are commonly found in processed and fried foods. Trans fats are harmful and should be avoided as they increase the risk of heart disease by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL). In Indian cuisine, it is best to minimise the use of commercially prepared snacks and baked goods that contain trans fats.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Sources: Fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts (for omega-3); vegetable oils like sunflower and safflower oils (for omega-6).

Role: These polyunsaturated fats are essential for the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and benefits for heart and brain health. Omega-6 fatty acids, while also essential, need to be balanced with omega-3s to prevent inflammation. Incorporating sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into your diet can support overall health and well-being.