Fat. If you ask me, it’s got a bad rap. Sure we all know about the dangers of going overboard on the stuff, everything from clogged arteries to reduced sex appeal, but it also plays some very important roles in the body. This may partially explain why we’ve developed such a love for the stuff over evolutionary time.
Fats are used to form the lipid bilayer of cell walls, as padding against shock for organs, as a buffer against invading disease organisms, and, of course, as energy storage molecules. It is also important to the function of certain signaling molecules in the body. Some vitamins and a few hormones, like estrogen, are fat-soluble, which is why women must maintain a certain weight to continue to menstruate.
Fat certainly plays an exciting role in the brain. The brain is one of the fattiest tissues in the body, second only to fat (adipose tissue) itself! The brain needs all this fat to "cushion" its circuitry. The axons ("sending" end) of neurons are covered with a myelin sheath that acts like insulation on a wire. Neurons that are used most require more myelin to function well. If untreated, problems like malnutrition and anorexia will result in a loss of brain tissue from the lack of myelin.
If you're like most Americans though, you probably get enough fat in your diet. If your BMI is over 18.5, you're likely doing fine, and if it's over 30, you might want to consider some dietary changes to reduce your fat intake. Keep in mind that the BMI is just a rough estimate, so if you're truly concerned about your fat intake it would be best to consult a physician.
Although fats are important, not all fats are the same. For example, trans-fatty acids (such as those found in French fries) are linked to heart disease whereas unsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil) help your heart health.
Saturated fats are so called because their fatty acid chains are saturated with hydrogen atoms while unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between the carbons in the chain:
For this week's Science of Yum recipe, I'd like to focus on one of the important fat molecules that the body cannot synthesize on its own: omega-3 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 is found in salmon, and have I got the recipe for you:
• 1/4 c packed brown sugar
• 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
• 1 Tbsp grated fresh or 1 tsp ground ginger
• 4 6-oz salmon fillets, about 1" thick, skinned (in my case, four of the little filets that come in the $.89 packets at Winco)
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (in my case, from the shaker)
1. Coat rack of broiler pan with cooking spray. Preheat broiler.
2. In small bowl, whisk sugar, mustard, and ginger. Season both sides of fillets with salt and pepper. Place salmon on broiler rack and brush glaze on top. Broil (6" from heat) 8 to 10 minutes or until fish is lightly browned and opaque.
I served mine with wild rice pilaf, red potatoes, and green beans:
Thank you, Holly and Jen, for helping me to NOT burn the house down during this project!
To find out more about fat, its many functions, and how to get healthier fats in your diet, check here: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002468.htm