Lipids: allies or enemies of our health?

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

Long associated with weight gain and health problems, lipids often have a bad reputation. However, they play an essential role for our body and are even essential for its proper functioning. But what are their benefits and how to consume them in the right amount? Decryption.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

Role of lipids in the body

Lipids, also called fats, are nutrients that provide energy to our body. They represent a concentrated source of energy, each gram of lipid providing 9 kilocalories (compared to 4 for carbohydrates and proteins). They are necessary for the proper functioning of our organization and contribute in particular to:

  • to the constitution and maintenance of the structure of cell membranes;
  • the transport and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K);
  • the production of hormones and biologically active molecules;
  • to the regulation of body temperature through their insulating effect;
  • to the storage of energy in the form of adipose tissue.

It is therefore essential to include lipids in our daily diet., but we must be careful to favor “good” lipids and to consume them in moderation, as we will see later.

A person pours olive oil on a plate of salad in an attempt to eat fat.

The different types of lipids

Lipids can be classified into three main families:

  1. triglycerides, which are the main form of fat storage in our body;
  2. phospholipids, which participate in the structure and functioning of cell membranes;
  3. sterols, the main representative of which is cholesterol.

These different forms of lipids can be subdivided based on their fatty acid composition. We thus distinguish:

  • saturated fatty acids (SFA), present mainly in products of animal origin and certain vegetable oils (such as palm oil);
  • monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which are found in particular in olive oil and oilseeds;
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), present in fatty fish, flax seeds and even nuts.

PUFAs are themselves divided into two categories: omega-3 and omega-6. These two types of fatty acids are called “essential” because our body cannot synthesize them and must therefore find them in food.

Health benefits of lipids

Consuming fat in the right amount is essential for our health, because they play a crucial role in many biological processes. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, are particularly beneficial:

  • they contribute to protection against cardiovascular diseases by regulating blood cholesterol levels;
  • they participate in the proper functioning of the nervous system and promote cognitive health;
  • they have anti-inflammatory properties and promote good skin health.

On the other hand, a excessive consumption of saturated fatty acids can be harmful to health, in particular by increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

A bottle of olive oil on a table to consume lipids

How to consume lipids in moderation?

To benefit from the benefits of lipids without harming our health, it is essential to have a balanced and diversified diet. Here are some tips for choosing and consuming fat:

  • favor sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, flax seeds, etc.);
  • limit the consumption of foods rich in saturated fatty acids (fatty meats, cold meats, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, etc.);
  • ensure you have a sufficient intake of omega-3 and omega-6, by regularly consuming fatty fish, oilseeds or vegetable oils rich in these essential fatty acids;
  • avoid processed industrial products, which often contain hidden and poor-quality fats.

Finally, it is important to adapt lipid intake to each person’s energy needs. Needs vary depending on age, gender, physical activity and weight.

Lipids and weight loss

It is common to hear that to lose weight, you must avoid “eat too much fat”. While this is true to some extent, it is not a matter of completely removing fat from our diet, but rather choosing it wisely and consuming it in moderation. Indeed, lipids are an important source of energy and have a satietogenic role, that is to say, they help us feel full more quickly.

Diets that are too low in fat can have harmful consequences on health, such as hormonal imbalances, deterioration in the quality of skin and hair, or an increased risk of mood disorders. It is therefore preferable to adopt a balanced diet, moderating the intake of lipids without completely excluding them.