By no means are we encouraging you to double your food portions after reading this story. In other words, don't go get fat.
An excess amount of poundage, even on so-called "healthy" obese adults, increases the risk of developing heart disease, according to a recent Danish study. Too much fat is also linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.
But ... a healthy amount of fat on your body has its benefits. Let us count four ways.
1. Stores energy
Fat serves an important role for storing energy. "Older people tend to lose weight in the later stages of life, so having those energy reserves is beneficial," says Dain LaRoche, a kinesiologist and associate professor at the University of New Hampshire. Eons ago when humans had to hunt for food, that fat storage helped us survive through the winters, he says. Having some fat reserves also aids cancer patients, who often lose weight and become frail during advanced stages of the disease.
2. Good for vitamins
Our fat-soluble vitamins — A, E, D and K — are absorbed in the body's fat tissue. "If people cut out all the fat in their diet, they would be deficient in those vitamins," LaRoche says. And it's less about having the fat, and more about consuming foods that have fat. By eliminating foods with fat, you miss out on nutrients that play a role in reducing inflammation, clotting blood, keeping your skin healthy and strengthening bones. You cannot find these important vitamins in doughnuts, but you can in fortified milk products, cold-water fish, carrots, avocados and a host of other foods.
3. Keeps us warm
In bone-chilling weather, the overweight dude has the advantage over the thin guy. Why? Fat is an insulator, so it's like wearing an extra layer of clothing. "When you're exposed to extreme cold weather, fat retards heat loss. It's an adaptive mechanism to help keep a core temperature," LaRoche says. Some studies have suggested that cold-water swimmers with a higher body mass index (BMI) have a lower risk of getting hypothermia.
So maybe, just maybe, adding a wee bit of winter weight isn't so horrible.
4. Protects the body from trauma
Visceral fat (fat located around your organs) provides padding and a source of energy for the kidneys, liver and heart. Fat provides a layer of protection, almost like a barrier to physical trauma, LaRoche says. Think of the pounding athletes in contact sports take when competing and training. Fat comes in handy for them, and it has for you with the bumps and falls you've taken over the years.
Bottom line: 'Tis better to be fit than fat. "Everything in moderation," LaRoche says. "There are negative effects of having too little fat and negative effects of having too much fat. Since two-thirds of America is overweight or obese, we have a bigger problem with too much fat."
Stacy Julien is channel editor for AARP Health.