Many times, dieticians or doctors have advised us to stay away from fats because they are unhealthy and may increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. However, not all fats are bad fats. Some fats are good for your health. They help to absorb vitamins, keep your skin healthy, and lower bad cholesterol.
In this article, we are going to learn the types of fats, the good fat vs bad fat, and how they affect your health. But before looking at the good fat vs bad fat, let us begin by understanding fats.
What are fats?
Fat is an ester of fatty acids or lipids which occur in living things or in food. The molecular structure of fats is called a “triglyceride” which means three molecules (triple esters of glycerol) joined together. They are the main components of vegetable oils and fatty tissue in animals
Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins make up the three major macronutrient groups of our diet. Fats help the body to absorb key vitamins, keep the skin healthy and they are the major stores of energy for the body.
Apart from essential fats such as omega-3 fats (exist in fish and flaxseed) and omega-6 fats (exist in foods like nuts, seeds, and corn oil) which can only be got from the food we eat, the majority of the fats we need are made by our bodies
What are the types of fats?
These are also known as trans-fatty acids. They are made by catalytic heating of liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process referred to as hydrogenation. Trans fats, therefore, exist in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Trans fats also occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products. Trans fats are considered the worst types of fats since it raises bad LDL cholesterol and at the same time lowers the good cholesterol HDL levels.
Doctors have linked artificial trans fats to increased inflammation which is responsible for dangerous health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Trans fats exist in fried foods (French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods), margarine vegetable shortening, baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries), and processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products such as high-fat meats and dairy products. They are usually solid at room temperature. Sources of saturated fat are; red meat, whole milk, cheese, coconut oil, and many baked goods.
The 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of calories a day. This is because saturated fats can drive up harmful LDL cholesterol, prompting blockage of arteries in the heart and other body parts.
These are liquid at room temperature. They are the types of fats we should include in our diet. This is because they improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and many other roles. They are mostly in plant foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
The two types of unsaturated fats include;
Monounsaturated fats are fat molecules with one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. They are liquid at room temperature but turn solid when chilled.
Research shows that eating foods containing monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease. Monounsaturated fat is mostly in foods such as;
- Olive, canola, and sesame oils
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, and pistachios; peanuts and peanut butter
Polyunsaturated fats are fat molecules with more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. They are also liquid at room temperature but turn solid on chilling.
Polyunsaturated fats lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. They are rich in nutrients such as vitamin E that are good at maintaining the body cells. They also provide essential fats such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Examples of foods with polyunsaturated fats include;
- Corn, cottonseed, and safflower oils
- Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
- Soybeans and soybean oil
- Tub margarine
- Olive oil
Good fat vs bad fat
Looking at the types of fats we have described above, it is evident that saturated fat and trans fat are potentially harmful to our health. These fats tend to be solid at room temperature.
Bad fat (saturated fat and trans fat) raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and at the same time suppress HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Foods with bad fat include;
- Fried foods like French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods
- Vegetable shortening
- Baked goods like cookies, cakes, pastries
- Processed snack foods like crackers and microwave popcorn
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
- Dark chicken meat and poultry skin
- High-fat dairy foods such as whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream
- Tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter
Therefore, trans fats should be avoided while saturated fats should be eaten in a moderate or very small amount.
From the above types, it is evident that monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are heart-healthy fats and should dominate your diet. These tend to be liquid at room temperature.
According to the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat lower blood cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart disease.
Foods that contain good fats include;
- Roasted soybeans and soy nut butter
- Seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds
- Vegetable oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil
- Soft margarine (liquid or tub)
- Fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans
- Peanut butter and almond butter
How much fat can I eat a day?
There are no official recommended intakes for fat, but instead, nutrition experts express the dairy intake as a percentage of the total daily calories consumed.
According to the dietary reference intake (DRI) for fat, an adult should get 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. That approximates to 44 grams to 77 grams of fat per day if you consume around 2,000 calories per day.
Regarding how much fat one should take, the type of fat in question should also be put into consideration. Because some fats are healthier than others, the total intake of the different fats still has to differ.
It is recommended to eat more of some fats and less of others due to their effect on our health. According to nutrition experts, we should eat;
- 15% to 20% of monounsaturated fats
- 5% to 10% of polyunsaturated fats
- Less than 10% of saturated fat
- 0% of trans fats
- Less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol
Which fat is good for weight loss?
When you eat a high-fat diet, you will feel full longer. This is because the digestive system will take longer to digest fats compared to when it was digesting carbohydrates. The feeling of fullness orchestrated by fats will make you skip a vending machine where you normally get empty calories.
The high-fat diet will definitely help you to lose weight compared to a low-fat diet. But the question is; “what type of fat is good for weight loss?”
The good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are the best fats for weight loss. This is because, on top of increasing satiety, they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and this reduces the risk for many chronic diseases.
Related; Best cooking oil for weight loss
What are the benefits of fats to our health?
Good fats (polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats) have many impressive health benefits including;
- Fat helps absorb vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Fat keeps our skin healthy
- Essential fats like Omega-3 are important for heart health
- Good fats like unsaturated fats can lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Fat is used for cooking to adds flavor to food
- Fat keeps you feeling satisfied longer after a meal which helps weight loss.
The dangers of too much fat in our bodies
As we all know, too much of anything is bad. Likewise, excessive consumption of fat is harmful to your health. Eating too much fat in your diet can lead to health problems such as;
- Weight gain and obesity
- Heart disease
- High blood cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Insulin resistance
- Fatty liver disease
Fats constitute good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) and bad fats (trans fats and saturated fats). Good fats lower bad cholesterol and increase the level of good cholesterol. This lowers the risk for heart disease and related conditions like stroke.
On the other hand, bad fats increase the level of bad cholesterol. This increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and high blood pressure.
In spite of the fact that all fats are not bad for our health, it is important that we take them in moderation. This is because fats are fats and will still be high in calories. Therefore, replace saturated with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and remove trans fats from your diet.
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