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Dietary Fats and Oils

Dietary fats and oils are the most concentrated form of energy as they yield 9 calories/g. In contrast, carbohydrates and proteins give only 4 calories/grams.

olive oil vegetable oil
Olive oil. Vegetable oil.

Nuts and oilseeds are chief sources of fat. Besides being rich in energy, dietary fats are incredible sources of essential fatty acids, vitamin E, in addition, to act as the transport vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins/hormones.

There are two kinds of dietary fats- visible and invisible fat.

  1. Visible fats include oils, butter, animal fat, etc.

  2. Invisible fat is not visible to naked eyes but present in small amounts in food items like wheat, rice, and pulses, etc,.

  3. In general, the fats and oils we use are mainly composed of either saturated OR un-saturated fatty acid chains.

    • Saturated fats contain no double bonds in their chemical structure. They exist in a solid-state at room temperatures and are usually derived from animal sources, although some of them are obtained from plant sources. Examples: butter, lard, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, etc.

    • Unsaturated fats contain one or more double bonds in their chain. They are liquid at room temperatures, and in general, derived from plant sources. Examples include soybean oil, safflower oil, etc. Fish oil, however, is composed of a major ratio of unsaturated fats to saturated fats.

    Why fats and oils are essential?

    • The human body requires dietary fats and oils in sufficient amounts to caary out basic etabolic functions. They provide essential fatty acids (EFA) EFA, as their name defines, are absolute essential nutrients required by the body. EFAs are linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid. α-Linolenic acid (ALA) is known as omega-3 and linoleic acid is called as omega-6 essential fatty acids. Both linoleic acid (omega-6) and α-linolenic acid must be present in the diet at a ratio of 5:1 to 10:1.

    • The important derivatives of α-linolenic acid are ecosa-pentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosa-hexaenoic acid (DHA). 1-3% of calories should come from EFA. Deficiency of EFAs results in impaired brain growth, mental retardation and learning difficulties, dermatitis (dryness of skin), hair loss, and poor wound healing.

    • The four fat-soluble vitamins namely vitamin A, D, E and K are, in fact, require fats and oils in the food to be absorbed through the gut. Inadequate fats may results in the deficiency of these vitamins leading to serious metabolic derangements with subsequent manifestations like night blindness, osteoporosis, bleeding from skin and mucosa, dry skin (phrenoderma), and susceptibility to infections.

    • Furthermore, vegetable oils are an ideal source of plant sterols, especially ß-sitosterol and campesterol. The FDA has approved the following claim for phytosterols:- "Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Phyto-sterols competitively inhibit cholesterol absorption across the gut and thereby can reduce cholesterol levels by 10% to 15%.

    • Fats are also high in calories. On an average 100 g of cooking oil provides 900 calories. Fats are functions like reserve energy that is readily available for use during the times of starvation, illnesses and cold-weather conditions.

    • In fact, fats and oils high in mono-unsaturated fats as in olive, canola, peanut, sesame, etc., help lower LDL-cholesterol in the blood.

    Limitations of fats and oils

    Apart from the need for fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, there is no specific requirement for dietary fats and oils as long as the diet provides adequate nutrients for energy.

    Excess carbohydrates in the form of glucose ultimately convert into fatty acids under the influence of insulin hormone. Those who consume omega-6 and omega-3 fats at a ratio of more than 10:1 should compensate by consuming omega-3 rich foods like fish, greens, and algae.

    Excess fats in the diet circulate as triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. These components deposit at various proportions in different organs and tissues inside our body leading to obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, etc.

    Although the average American diet contains 35-40% of calories as fat, most current recommendations are to limit dietary fat to 30% or less of total calories. No more than 5-10% of energy should come from saturated fats, 10% should be from monounsaturated, and another 10% from poly-unsaturated fatty acids.

    Below is the table with in-depth analysis of some of commonly used dietary fats and oils:-

    Item SFA% MUFA% PUFA% ω-6 to ω-3 ratio Remarks
    Canola oil 8 61 21 10 2:1 Recommended
    Flax seed oil 9 18 16 57 1:3.5 Recommended
    Safflower oil 10 13 77 0 77:0 Somewhat recommended
    Sunflower oil 11 20 69 0 69:0 Somewhat recommended
    Corn oil 13 25 61 1 61:1 Somewhat recommended
    Olive oil 14 77 8 1 8:1 Highly recommended
    Soybean oil 15 25 53 7 8:1 Recommended
    Sesame oil 15 42 43 0 43:0 Recommended
    Peanut oil 18 49 33 0 33:0 Recommended
    Salmon fat 24 34 0 42 0:42 Recommended somewhat
    Cottonseed oil 27 19 54 0 54:0 Recommended somewhat
    Chicken fat 32 47 21 0 21:0 Recommended somewhat
    Palm oil 40 48 11 1 11:1 Recommended somewhat
    Pork fat 41 48 11 0 11:0 Not Recommended
    Beef tallow 47 53 0 0 0:0 Not Recommended
    Cocoa butter 64 36 0 0 0:0 Not Recommended
    Butter 69 31 0 0 0:0 Not Recommended
    Cheese 70 30 0 0 0:0 Not Recommended
    Hydrogenated- vegetable oil 19 30 0 0 0:0 Not Recommended
    Coconut oil 92 6 1.6 0.4 4:1 Not Recommended

    SFA= Saturated fatty acids

    MUFA= Mono-unsaturated fatty acids

    PUFA= Poly-unsaturated fatty acids

    ω-3= Omega 3 fatty acids

    ω-6= Omega 6 fatty acids

    Also read ≻≻-

    ≻≻-High cholesterol and Health.

    ≻≻-Essential fatty acids.

    ≻≻-Trans fats.

    ≻≻-Back to Home page from fats and oils.

    Further reading and References:

    US-FDA-Trans fats

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