Fat: What It Is and What It Does

What is fat? Does it serve a purpose? If you ask many on the street , they would assuredly tell you that fat is “bad” and that they need to get rid of theirs.

While one can certainly possess too much fat, it does play a vital role in our daily lives and is misunderstood to say the least. Both dietary fat and stored fat are necessary for survival, but it needs to be understood that dietary fat is certainly not causal of excess stored fat. In chemical terms, fat can best be defined as any group of natural esters of glycerol and various fatty acids that are solid at room temperature.

This description best applies for saturated fats, but unsaturated fats are fats too. However, they are essentially the same ester groups of glycerol, only they are liquid at room temperature.

Fats play a large role that is often underplayed by those within the fitness community. It is not simply something that can be lived without. Fat serves as insulation for our internal organs. The heart, kidneys, and other organs are surrounded by adipose tissue which helps not only to protect them from injury, but to hold them in place as well. Stored fats also help to regulate body temperature.

Since nearly 50% of all stored fat is stored right underneath the skin layer as subcutaneous fat, the body uses it as protection to temperature change in the environment. That’s why it makes sense to have a reasonable level of bodyfat, as opposed to having too much or too little.

If you are heavy, you probably tend to overheat rather easily, while the excessively slender find themselves cold more often than those with more bodyfat. Lastly, stored body fat serves an integral part of hormone production and regulation. While many may find this to be strange since most hormones, or the body’s chemical messengers, are produced in glands throughout the body. However, some of our most recognizable and important hormones are derived from adipose tissue. One example of the hormone regulating abilities of adipose tissue can be found in subcutaneous tissue as the lipid, 7-dehydrocholesterol.

When the skin is exposed to sunlight, the 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted to the fat-soluble vitamin D which is vital to maintaining bone health. Secondly, fatty tissue also serves as an integral part in the regulation of estrogen production. It is well known and documented that body fat levels directly influence the menstrual cycle. It is even possible for the menstrual cycle to cease altogether if body fat levels become too low, while on the other hand, obese women may find themselves having irregular periods and fertility problems as well. Furthermore, one of the adrenal hormones is converted to estrogen by the enzyme aromatase in the fatty tissue of both men and women.

This helps
to explain why heavier, older women tend to maintain high levels of estrogen. Fat is also vital for the breakdown of the fat-soluble vitamins A, K, D, and E. In summation, fat is truly important for daily functions, which is why are bodies need a bare minimum of 12% for women and 7% for men. It protects our organs, regulates body temperature, nourishes our skin and helps fortify our bones, without which we’d be most certainly be dead.

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