What are Fats?
Fats are an essential nutrient that are present in the food you eat and play a crucial role in your body’s functioning. They are an energy source, help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and provide insulation and protection for your organs.
In the past you might have been recommended by your doctors to reduce or eliminate fat intake for weight control and to prevent illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.
Now, doctors have different opinions and consider all fats aren’t bad. Some fats lower your cholesterol level, improve your brain functions and keep you healthy. You must know and ask your doctors to include some fats in your diet.
Fats play several important roles in your body, including:
- Energy storage: Fats serve as an energy reserve, providing 9 calories per gram.
- Insulation and protection: Fats help insulate the body, cushioning and protecting internal organs.
- Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: Fats help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are essential for overall health.
- Cell membrane structure: Fatty acids make up a large portion of cell membranes and help maintain the membrane’s structure and fluidity.
- Hormone production: Fats play a role in the production of hormones, such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which help regulate many physiological processes.
- Inflammation regulation: Some types of fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory effects and can help reduce inflammation throughout the body.
- Nerve function: Fats are a key component of nerve cell membranes and help ensure proper nerve function and signaling.
The takeaway is to include balanced fats and nutrition’s in your diet. Generally there are four types of fats: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are the healthy fats (it includes Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats). Saturated and trans fats are considered as bad fats, not good for your health.
Saturated fats are composed of carbon atoms that are completely surrounded by hydrogen atoms, making them a solid form of fat at room temperature and also known as solid fats.
These fats have been linked to increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests limiting daily saturated fat intake to 13 grams or less.
Saturated fats are found in many common foods and are often associated with animal products.
Here are the some sources of saturated fat includes:
- Fatty meats, like beef, pork, and lamb
- Poultry with skin
- Butter, cheese, and whole milk
- Ice cream, cream, and cream cheese
- High-fat baked goods, like cakes, pastries, and cookies
- Fried foods, like French fries and fried chicken
- Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
Studies have shown that it’s not beneficial to swap out saturated fat in your diet for refined carbohydrates or sugar, as these can be harmful to your health as well.
Instead of consuming saturated fat, it is better for a person’s health to opt for healthier options such as nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
Health professionals view unsaturated fats as “good” fats because they are liquid at room temperature and mostly come from plant oils.
The two main types of unsaturated fat are:
Monounsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat that have only one double bond between the carbon atoms in their molecular structure. This bond makes them less flexible than polyunsaturated fats, but still less solid than saturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol levels, support healthy blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean diet, which has been found to potentially decrease the possibility of developing chronic illnesses, includes a significant amount of monounsaturated fats.
Sources of healthy monounsaturated fats include:
- Olive and olive oil
- canola oil
- Nuts and nuts butter
- Seeds such as almonds, peanuts (Study), and sesame
Polyunsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat that contain more than one double bond in their chemical structure. These fats are liquid at room temperature and also considered a “good” type of fat.
Examples of polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in fatty fish, seeds, and nuts.
Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids have various health benefits, including improved heart health, reduced levels of triglycerides in the blood, and better eye, brain, and joint health, according to the Office of Dietary Statistics.
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on heart health have been studied, but the results of such research have been mixed. While they have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.
A comprehensive review found that supplements containing omega-3s did not have a significant impact on heart health.
On the other hand, too much intake of omega-6 fatty acids, commonly found in processed foods and vegetable oils, may increase inflammation in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats can be found in a variety of foods including:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines
- Vegetable oils, such as soybean, corn, and sunflower oil
- Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds
- Some types of tofu and soy products
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that has been artificially modified to extend the shelf life and stability of foods also known as partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fats can negatively affect cholesterol levels and increase the chances of developing serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), trans fats are believed to contribute to half a million deaths from heart disease annually.
Trans fats gained popularity among food companies due to their low cost and easy usage, as well as their long shelf life and appealing taste.
They are often found in fast food chains and restaurants as they are commonly used in commercial fryers.
But, the World Health Organization has called for the elimination of trans fats from the global food supply due to their association with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. As a result, many food production companies have removed trans fats from their products.
Trans fats found in these foods:
- Fried foods such as doughnuts, French fries, and fried chicken
- Baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Snack foods such as crackers, chips, and microwave popcorn
- Margarine and other spreads
- Non-dairy creamers
- Frozen foods, such as frozen pizza, pies, and other processed snacks
- Fast food chains often use trans fats in their deep fryers to fry foods like chicken and french fries
- Some canned soups and broths can also contain trans fats
If a food item has partially hydrogenated oils listed in its ingredients, it has trans fats.
It is recommended by the American Heart Association that trans fat intake should be limited to a maximum of 5-6% of a person’s daily calorie intake, as even small amounts can pose health risks.
Fats Recommendations for your diet
To prevent unhealthy weight gain, the WHO suggests keeping fat consumption to a maximum of 30% of daily caloric intake, with saturated fat being limited to no more than 10% and trans fat limited to less than 1%.
It is suggested by healthcare professionals to substitute saturated and trans fats with healthier options such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet that provides enough calories for a healthy weight.
Health experts recommend being mindful and informed about the different types of fats and making informed food choices to maintain a healthy diet. This involves paying attention to labels and choosing healthy fats over harmful ones.