by Vishwa Kiran
Fat or Lipid is an essential aspect of diet. Diet must contain fat for survival and robust vitality. In this short write-up, we shall see how easy it is to store fat and how difficult to get rid of; how one is gulled into doing the wrong exercises and end up staying overweight.
Dancers end up consuming way more fat than they think they do; mostly because their diet involves protein which has a very high concentration of fat like paneer (cottage cheese), red meat, eggs and nuts. Most people think that eating small portions of the “wrong kind” of food instead of higher quantities of “right” food will help. I know a dancer who eats a block of cheese for lunch and does not appear to be overweight, (must have an abundance of ‘futile cycles’, these are people who burn excessive calories just sitting around doing nothing). However, as they say, one man’s food is another man’s poison and if other dancers end up following the same diet regime, things could go very wrong.
An important fact to understand is that fat is stored when we consume more calories than we use. In this context it would be helpful to a dancer to know the different kinds of fat and how it affects your body to make sure that appropriate amounts are consumed. To make the reading of this blog more effective, the discussion here has been restricted to the 2 main categorizations of fat – saturated and unsaturated.
A good starting point would be to understand the meaning of the word ‘Saturation’.
“Saturation” here refers to the hydrogen content of the fat molecule. Those fatty acids that have the maximum amount of hydrogen atoms associated with each carbon atom are said to be “saturated” with hydrogens, hence the name. In a chain of carbons, such as a fatty acid, a double or triple bond will cause a kink in the chain. These kinks have macro-structural implications. Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, rather than solid, due to the kinks in the chain. The kinks prevent the molecules from packing closely together to form a solid. These fats are called oils and are present in fish and plants.
Saturated fat are fats derived mainly from animal sources like meat, dairy products, eggs and some from plant sources like coconut milk, palm and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats are usually solid in room temperature like butter, cottage cheese (paneer) etc. Extensive intake of saturated fat will increase LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level (bad cholesterol), which causes coronary heart disease. So it is best to stay away from these sources or at the least, regulate the frequency and the quantum of its intake.
Unsaturated fat – Unsaturated fats are derived from both plant and vegetable sources. They are mostly liquid at room temperature and solidify at colder temperatures. Oils like peanut oil, safflower oil, olive oil, soybean oils and other sources like sesame, corn, nuts etc are all sources of unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats actually lower LDL and maintain HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels (good cholesterol). Though it may seem like the better evil, it must be remembered that it is an evil nonetheless and consumption ought to be regulated.
It would also be important to insert a note on Trans fat – Trans fat is actually unsaturated fat; it increases the LDL cholesterol level while at the same time lowering the HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level. Trans fat is used to increase the shelf life of processed foods like cakes, biscuits, fries etc. As is evident, this is the most evil of them all!!
Every gram of fat consists of 9 calories. Considering our unlimited capacity to store fat and the density of fat itself, fat is our largest reserve of energy. Fat provides the main fuel source for long duration, low to moderate intensity exercise like marathons. Even during high intensity exercise, where carbohydrate is the main fuel source, fat is needed to help access the stored carbohydrate (glycogen).
As many of us would have painfully realized, stored fat is difficult to be broken down; conversion of stored fat into energy is directly proportional to the time spent on it. Hence if you are doing short duration high energy dances or exercises, you will be burning very less or no body fat at all as compared to slow running or walking. Converting body fat into energy requires a lot of oxygen; hence the intensity of the exercise has to be low. So to combine these two points, the nature of exercises one needs to do to burn or convert stored body fat into usable energy is slow and low intensity exercises for a longer duration. As for dancers, the best way would be to design endurance based dance exercises, so one gets stronger while losing fat/ weight.
Fat is not all bad and demonic. It has some very important metabolic functions without which it is impossible to survive. Some of it is listed below:
1. Main fuel in endurance aerobic state.
2. Satiety. Fat stimulates hormones that slow down gastric emptying, so food stays in stomach longer.
3. Spare protein breakdown when carbohydrate is adequate.
4. Certain fatty acids are essential in that they form part of cell walls and prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are very important. They affect the function of smooth muscle, and are important in recovery from injury. Essential fatty acids can be obtained from plant oils and deep sea fish oils.
5. Carry fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
6. Form the basis of some hormones needed for adequate sexual function.
7. Supply 9 kcal of energy per gram of fat.
From my knowledge and experience, it is better to watch or plan your diet to make it low-fat instead of planning painful work-out routines to burn them. Remember losing weight takes thrice as much time as gaining it.