By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 29, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Why does my body need fat?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 29 Mar. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/why-does-my-body-need-fat. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, March 29). Why does my body need fat?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/why-does-my-body-need-fat.

Dear Alice,

Is it possible to lose all body fat? Should you eliminate all fat from your diet?

— Anonymous

Dear Anonymous, 

With constant talk about losing fat and eating fat-free, it’s no surprise you’re wondering if it’s possible to be rid of fat entirely. Fat cells (also known as adipocytes) store energy as fat and the number of these cells in the body generally remains constant from childhood through adulthood. What can change, however, in their ability to expand or shrink depending on changes in body weight. Body fat has many essential roles—including absorbing nutrients and energy—and losing too much of it may be fatal. That said, cutting out fat altogether is not recommended. However, research has identified different kinds of fats and has found that consuming some types of fat in abundance is more likely to lead to adverse health outcomes than others. Continue reading to learn more about the role of fat in the body and which foods contain the most beneficial fats! 

To begin, it may be beneficial to distinguish between the different types of body fat you may be asking about. Body fat—also known as adipose tissue—includes subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, and bone marrow. Both visceral fat (found surrounding your internal organs) and bone marrow (found inside your bones) are fats that aren’t outwardly visible. When people talk about losing body fat, they’re usually talking about subcutaneous fat, which is located just under your skin and is visible in the sense that it’s pinchable. In fact, some health care professionals may conduct the pinch test using skinfold calipers, which are common tools for estimating body fat percentage. 

Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in how much subcutaneous fat you have and where it accumulates. Many health complications can arise from having too much subcutaneous fat including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. On the flip side, not having enough fat can also be highly dangerous and may be linked to malnutrition, impaired healing, and fluctuating cholesterol levels. These complications are also noted with lipodystrophy, a rare condition related to abnormal distribution or loss of body fat in different areas. These conditions demonstrate the health issues associated with fat loss in specific areas, highlighting how crucial having body fat is and why total loss of it could be fatal. 

But the question still remains, why do humans need fat in their bodies. Subcutaneous fat has a protective role and serves as a shield against any tumbles your bones and muscles may take. This type of fat also helps facilitate the movement of nerves and blood vessels from your skin to your muscles. It serves as the glue that connects muscles and bones to your middle layer of skin. This functionality gives it both communicative and connective properties. Additionally, subcutaneous fat helps with regulating body temperature, making it critical for a variety of bodily functions. 

In the same way that there are multiple types of body fat, there are multiple forms of dietary fat or fat that can be found in food. Food fats can come in the form of either saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats can be further broken down into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated categories. Saturated fats can often be identified by their tendency to remain solid at room temperature and usually come from meat and dairy. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are often liquid at room temperature and are mostly sourced from nuts, fish, and vegetable oils. 

Over-consumption of saturated fats has been linked to increased blood cholesterol levels, which could lead to a higher risk of heart disease and other health conditions. Monounsaturated fats from plants have been found to increase what researchers refer to as “good” cholesterol (HDL) and decrease “bad” cholesterol (LDL). This helps to explain why health care professionals often recommend replacing saturated fats with monosaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats can contain omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids. These fats may also lower LDL cholesterol and risk of disease and increase HDL cholesterol and blood sugar control. If you’re still curious, consider checking out more information about the types of dietary fats and the benefits of certain fatty foods. 

Figuring out which foods are best suited for your well-being (and taste buds) can be tricky. If you find yourself facing difficulties when it comes to planning meals, meeting with a health care professional or nutritionist may help. Additionally, if you’re concerned about your body fat levels, consulting with a health care professional can be helpful in getting advice on testing, medications, or necessary medical procedures. If you find that it’s self-esteem or body image that’s weighing you down, consider meeting with a mental health professional to work through why you may be feeling this way. 

Hopefully learning more about why people need body fats and dietary fats has answered your questions and helped you out! 

Best, 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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