What are the Functions of Fats/Lipids?

Fats are foods that provide us with calories and they are always equated with calories due to their high calorie yielding capability per gram in compare to other major nutrients, i.e. carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are high energy foods and provide us as much as 9 kcal (kilocalorie) of energy per gram, which is much higher than proteins (4 kcal) and carbohydrates (4 kcal). Due to high calorie yielding capability our body uses fats as energy storehouse (stored as fats in adipose tissues), to be used during lean period. This is how our human body evolved during time of evolution to overcome short lean periods. ID-10051758

The functions of fats can be summarized as:

  • Fats supply high calorie and spare the proteins for being used as source of energy.
  • Fats act as a vehicle for fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E & K).
  • Fats in the body support important viscera like heart, kidney, intestine etc. and fats beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat) provide insulation against cold.
  • Essential fatty acids (EFA) are required for our body growth, for structural integrity of cell membrane and to reduce platelet adhesion (important in preventing heart attacks). Essential fatty acids also reduce cholesterol and low density lipoproteins (LDL).
  • Many polyunsaturated fatty acids are precursors of prostaglandins which are a group of compounds that are known as “local hormones” and play an important role in physiological functions of the body like kidney functions, acid secretions in the stomach, vascular homeostasis, gastro intestinal motility, lung physiology and reproductive function.
  • Cholesterol (a fat which is disliked by us due to its role in cardiovascular diseases) is a very important fat for us. Cholesterol is essential for synthesis of bile acids and steroid hormones as it is the precursor for the synthesis of steroid hormones and bile acids.
  • Fats provide palatability to our food and without the fat food is of limited palatability.
  • Fats are stored in our body to supply energy during the lean period and help us survive malnutrition and likes of famines in the history of mankind as it is serving the same purpose to the animals at present.

Thus fats serve many important functions for us. But the non-calorie functions of fats have been discovered only recently. Although fats have several extremely important physiological functions, we need to take care of fat intake as excess (more than we require) consumption of fats can lead to several health problems, especially cardiovascular health problems, such as heart diseases, hypertension, atherosclerosis etc. to name a few.

Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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