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How Bad Is Fat? Talk the Talk

Updated Thursday, 8th September 2005

How to sound like an expert. There’s no shortage of people who can talk about how-many-calories-are-in-a-crisp, or give you the full run-down on the latest diets doing the rounds. But this can all sound a bit sad and over-knowledgeable, given that food should really be one of life’s great pleasures

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Cooking oils

Why not incorporate a few more scientific terms in your conversation, should the subject of fat come up? Instant credibility!

Forget "fat". "Lipid" is the word you want. This is the chemical name for both the fats and oils in our diets AND within our bodies.
Lipolysis is the name for the release of lipids from their stores, and happens when we need energy. Sometimes this is a good thing, if the lipids are going to be used by other cells, but too much lipid in the bloodstream can lead to furring up of the arteries.
Liposuction is probably the most tabloid-popular of all lipid-related words. It refers to the surgical procedure by which under-the-skin fat is literally sucked out of the body, as a means of losing weight instantly. Fat at body temperature is much more liquid than the solid fat you’d get on a joint in the butcher’s shop, which is why it can be sucked out. However, it’s not quite like draining a waterbed - for one thing our fat stores have blood vessels and nerves running through them, which makes the procedure extremely painful.

You’ve probably heard of people having "pear-shaped" figures if they have proportionally more fat deposited on their hips than anywhere else. But doctors also talk about "apple-shaped" people, "apples" being those people who particularly store fat round their midriffs. Men tend to be apples, and women tend to be pears, at least until the menopause.

The reason that doctors are concerned about apples and pears, is that apple-shaped people have a greater risk of heart disease, though the exact reason for this is not known.

Superficial fat is that fat that lies under the skin, particularly around places like the shoulders, stomachs, thighs and buttocks. In other words it’s the fat that makes us look cuddly. And even if you’re extremely cuddly, these fat depots are still called "superficial."

That’s because they’re totally different from ....

... intramuscular fat. Which we also have a lot of - but which lies between our muscles. This is the fat that is thought to have a big effect on our immune system.

You can think of the relationship between our superficial and intramuscular fat stores as being like two different sorts of bank account.

Think of your current account. After pay-day, it’s full of money ... which drains away as you spend, unless there are any extra sources of income. In which case it can be plumped up again. That’s analogous to your superficial fat, which varies with your calorific input.

As for your intramuscular fat, the body cherishes this like your rainy-day savings account, and refuses to dig into it unless dire emergencies prevail, no matter how much effect dieting is having on your under-skin fat.

And if in doubt - try an abbreviation! These relate to the chemical constructions of different fats. Remember that all fats are made up of the same molecules - carbon, hydrogen and glycerol. But it’s the way that they’re put together that determines the properties of the fat...

So drop these abbreviations into your conversation if you really want to sound like an expert... if a slightly anoraky one.

Fat of the MUFA variety is better-known as MONOUNSATURATE... ...whereas PUFA fat on the other hand, is POLYUNSATURATE.... ...and TAG stands for TRIACYLGLYCEROL.
A MUFA is any fatty acid that has only one carbon-to-carbon double bond in it. The popular ’Mediterranean diet’ contains a lot of these, from all the olive oil, so is beneficial.

PUFAs are fatty acids containing more than one carbon-carbon double bond. There are two sorts, and they’re used slightly differently in the body - but the main point is that both sorts are very valuable, especially for fighting disease.

This is the form in which fats are stored inside cells: bundles of three fatty acids linked at one end by a glycerol molecule. It’s also the form in which we eat animal fats. Inside us they’re broken down to three fatty acids - then reconstituted as TAGs inside our blood cells.

 

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