Why do we need fats & sugars?

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Fat and sugar get a lot of bad press as they are linked to unhealthy weight gain and diabetes. Too much fat or sugar in your diet can lead to a lot of health problems; however, fats and sugars are necessary components of our diet and have useful functions within the human body.

There are different types of fat and different ways of getting sugar into your diet. Being aware of these can help you make sensible food and drink choices with lower associated health risks and even some health benefits.

What Fat Does For Us

Fat is a concentrated source of energy. As well as providing fuel for the human body it transports vitamins A, D, E and K, which are all soluble in fat, through the blood stream. Fat helps keep our skin and hair healthy, repairs tissue and maintains hormone metabolism. Fat keeps you warm by insulating your body.

Types Of Fat

The two basic types of fat are saturated and unsaturated.

Saturated fat gets solid at room temperature and is found in meat and dairy products. It also appears in processed products such as cakes and biscuits. Saturated fat contributes to high cholesterol, a risk factor in heart disease and its intake should therefore be kept to a minimum.

Unsaturated fat comes in two forms. Monounsaturated fat can be produced by the human body and isn't essential to our diet. Polyunsaturated fat, also known as essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6, can only come from food or supplements because the body can't produce them. Essential fatty acids maintain cell membranes in the body and lower cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fat is generally liquid at room temperature and can be found in nuts, vegetables, seeds and oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna.

How Sugar Is Used In The Human Body

Sugar is a source of energy. The sugar we stir into coffee or mix into cakes and cookies is also a form of simple carbohydrate -- a carbohydrate that is easily and quickly absorbed into the blood stream. All forms of carbohydrate are broken down into sugar in the form of glucose inside the body. The glucose travels through the bloodstream and converts into energy. Any excess is stored as glycogen in the liver or in fat around the body. When more energy is required, the glycogen is reconverted into glucose.

Types Of Sugar

The type of sugar we use to make cookies isn't the only source of glucose we have. In fact, it's better to get your glucose from complex carbohydrates such as root vegetables and whole grains. These foods release their sugars slowly that helps maintain blood sugar levels. Sugar in the form of simple carbohydrates such as white bread and cake release glucose very quickly into the blood stream and can lead to blood sugar peaks and troughs -- a cycle that's dangerous to our health and leads to an increased risk of developing diabetes.

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