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Dietary fats

What are saturated or "bad" fats and unsaturated or "good" fats? How do they affect our health and weight? And why do we even need them?

Fats are an important part of our diet.

But.

Some types of fat are healthier than others.

That is what this article is about – what fats are in our diet, what they do for us and which foods (types of fat) we should avoid if we want to improve our health.

 

What is dietary fat?

Fat is one of the three main macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat).

Fats are made up of triglycerides (three fatty acid molecules linked to one glycerol molecule) and, together with proteins and carbohydrates, are the basis of the cell composition of living organisms.

 

When it comes to nutrition, the word ‘fat’ has a bad reputation (which is partly justifiable).

In the past, it was believed that to prevent weight gain and health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, dietary fat should be limited or avoided altogether.

But.

Now we know that not all fats are bad – for example, some fats lower cholesterol and help keep you healthy.

Fats perform many important functions in the body, they:

  • Give us energy.
  • Warm the body.
  • Build cells.
  • Protect organs.
  • Help the body absorb vitamins.
  • Produce hormones that help the body function as it should.
 

In other words, we now know that:

  • We should not avoid fat, but ensure a proper balance between fat and other nutrients.

Because.

  • Fat is vital for us.

But.

  • They are different – healthier and less healthy.
 

Depending on their attributes, fats are classified as:

  • Fats or fatty acids – these terms can refer to any type of fat. Colloquially, the term ‘fat’ usually refers to fat that is solid at room temperature.
  • Lipids – this term can refer to any type of fat, whether liquid or solid.
  • Oils – any fat that is liquid at room temperature.
  • Animal fats – butter, cream and meat fats such as lard.
  • Vegetable fats – olive and avocado fats and vegetable oils such as olive, peanut, linseed, corn, etc.
 

Regardless of the type of fat, all fats contain the same number of calories – 9 calories per gram (for comparison, 1 g of carbohydrates and protein contains about 4 calories).

Different types of fat affect our health differently, especially heart health.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of dietary fats and their effects on our bodies.

 

Dietary fat types

There are four main types of fat in foods:

  • Saturated fats.
  • Monounsaturated fats.
  • Polyunsaturated fats.
  • Trans fats.
 

And.

Each of these fat types affects our body differently.

 

Saturated fats

Saturated fats (also called “bad fats”) are fats whose fatty acid chains have no double bonds between the carbon atoms, so they are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and therefore are also called ‘hard fats’

They are thought to contribute to the risk of cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart disease and stroke) because they can increase the level of low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.

However.

There is a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats, and – it is still unclear whether we should include them in our diets and how much we should eat them. Take a look at the recommendations of some authoritative health organisations:

 

Saturated fats are widely found in many foods and drinks:

  • Unhealthy ones such as Fast Food, biscuits, pastries, etc.
  • In everyday, healthy foods such as whole milk products and meat.
 

In other words, it is impossible to avoid them completely.

And – it’s not necessary, because whether a product is healthy or unhealthy depends on how much of it (apart from fats and carbohydrates) contains other nutrients that are important for our bodies, for example:

  1. Fast food, crackers, chips, etc., are high in saturated fat (calories), but low in protein, vitamins, etc.

On the other hand.

  1. Whole milk products and meat have saturated fat but are also high in protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.
 

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat whose fatty acid chains have a single double bond, resulting in fewer hydrogen atoms.

Oils containing monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature.

Monounsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood and thus reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

They also provide nutrients that help to develop and maintain the body’s cells. Oils high in monounsaturated fats also provide our bodies with vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

 

Foods high in monounsaturated fats:

  • Olive oil.
  • Canola oil.
  • Peanut oil.
  • Safflower oil.
  • Sesame oil.
  • Avocado.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Some nuts and seeds including almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
 

Read more about which oil is best for frying, and which for salads HERE.

 

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats are a type of unsaturated fat whose fatty acid chains contain several double bonds, resulting in even fewer hydrogen atoms.

Oils containing polyunsaturated fats (such as soya oil) are usually liquid at room temperature.

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, provide the nutrients necessary for cell formation and help to provide the body with vitamin E.

In addition.

Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids provide our bodies with essential Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, important for many bodily functions but which our bodies cannot produce by themselves.

 

Foods high in polyunsaturated fats:

  • Canola oil.
  • Corn oil.
  • Soybean oil.
  • Sunflower oil.
  • Oily fish (anchovies, herring, mackerel, cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, whitefish, cobia, etc.).
  • Some nuts and seeds including walnuts, linseeds and sunflower seeds.
  • Tofu and soya beans.
 

Trans fats

Two types of trans-fatty acids are found in foods:

  1. Naturally occurring trans fats, which are formed in the intestines of some animals and foods from these animals (such as milk and meat products) may contain small amounts of these fats.
  2. Artificial trans fats – chemically modified unsaturated fats (oils). During the hydrogenation process, more rigid molecules similar to those of saturated fatty acids are formed that is – the oil becomes solid at room temperature.
 

The main source of trans-fats in our diet is industrially produced foods (in Nutrition Facts may be listed as “Partially hydrogenated oils”).

Trans fats are used in the food industry because:

  • They are cheap and easy to use.
  • They extend the shelf life of manufactured products.
  • They give the desired taste and texture to foods.
 

Many restaurants and fast-food chains also use trans fats, e.g. for deep-fried food, because oils with high trans fat content can be used longer/many times.

But.

Trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Eating trans fats increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. They are also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organisation estimates that trans fat consumption causes more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year.

 

Foods high in trans fats:

  • Margarine and shortenings.
  • Manufactured pastries (cakes, pies, biscuits, tarts…).
  • Microwave popcorn.
  • Crackers.
  • Chips.
  • Doughnuts.
  • French fries.
  • Fried chicken (nuggets).
  • Fast Food.
  • Frozen pizzas.
  • Ready-made icings.
  • Coffee cream.
  • etc.
       

In other words, all products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils to extend their shelf life and improve texture.

 

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that our body cannot synthesize on its own and therefore must be obtained from food.

They are:

 

How to reduce unhealthy fat intake?

It is virtually impossible to avoid saturated fats and trans fats completely in today’s world, but it is possible to reduce their intake significantly:

  1. By limiting foods high in saturated fats and/or trans fats, such as industrially produced pastries and meat products (including Fast Food), pizza, fried foods, potato chips and other salty snacks;
 
  1. Replacing high-fat foods (containing mainly saturated fats) such as butter, cream, margarine, coconut and palm oils, etc., with foods containing healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as non-tropical vegetable oils, nut butter and spreads, avocados, etc.
 
  1. Reading the Nutrition Facts label to see the fat content and composition:
    1. First, check the total amount of fat per portion or 100 g of the product;
    2. Pay attention to the amount of saturated and trans fatty acids (or partially hydrogenated oils) per portion or 100 g of product. The difference between the total fat and the saturated/trans fatty acids is the healthy unsaturated fat.
 
  1. If you like meat, choose leaner cuts of meat or poultry and remove the fat or skin from the poultry before cooking.
 

Remember – low-fat diets are not suitable for children under 2 years of age.

 

Why do we need fat?

When trying to lose excess weight, many of us first give up products containing fat. This is a big mistake – because if the body does not get the amount of fat it needs each day, it will stop absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (for example, vitamin D), thus limiting the absorption of calcium and other minerals.

Of course, excessive fat intake can lead to serious health problems (obesity, liver and pancreatic problems, etc.), so the optimal amount of fat that should be consumed is 60-80g per day or no more than 25% to 30% of the daily calorie intake (depending on the person’s physical parameters). This amount will be completely harmless and provide the body with the nutrients it needs.

Fats play an important role in regulating our body’s functioning. First of all, fat is a source of energy every normal person needs to be able to work, exercise and, after all, feel good.

Many vitamins (e.g. A, E, B2, D, K …) and trace elements (calcium, magnesium …) cannot be absorbed by the body unless fat is present leading to their deficiency.

As a result.

Wrinkles appear, our skin becomes flabby, our hair begins to fall out, our nails start to crack and split.

In addition.

Fats are an important link in the chain, in the production of certain hormones and the formation of new cells – they transport nutrients across cell membranes and help maintain the function of our immune system.

In other words, if you want to be beautiful, healthy and full of energy, you can’t do without fat.

 

What happens if you do not get enough fat?

  • The functioning of the nervous system, cardiovascular system and liver is disrupted.
  • Vision is impaired.
  • The chemical composition of the skin begins to change.
  • Physical activity decreases and the immune system weakens – resistance to various diseases declines.
 

But most importantly, if a person does not get enough fat regularly, the metabolism is disturbed and the fat layer only increases.

Don’t forget that fat provides our body with heat and protects our internal organs from shocks and impacts when we fall or make rapid movements.

A few years ago there was a theory that fat should be excluded from the diet almost completely on the grounds that fat causes atherosclerosis. Only recently it has been shown that fat, on the contrary, contains trace elements that reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Fat is at the top of the list of foods to exclude because fat intake is usually the most avoided and feared by everyone who watches their weight. However, completely avoiding fat can lead to serious health problems, as can excessive intake.

It is important not to exceed the daily intake and preferably consume vegetable fats.

 

Key takeaways

Research on the effects of dietary fat on our bodies is ongoing, but some facts are clear:

  • Fat is found in both plant and animal foods.
  • Some fats are associated with negative effects on heart health, while others are highly beneficial for health.
  • Fats are just as important in our diets as protein and carbohydrates. Some bodily functions depend directly on the presence of fat.
  • When we consume too much fat (calories) of any kind, our weight (the proportion of fat in the body) increases.
 

Does eating healthier mean giving up your favourite foods?

No!

A healthy diet can include your favourite foods.

But.

Make sure you balance your portions with your nutrient intake.

In other words, if you like French fries or burgers, cakes or whatever – eat them, but not every day and in small portions.

And.

Keep track of your calorie intake.

Perhaps if you find out that 5 pieces of crispy chicken gives you 1/3 of your daily calorie intake, your cravings for them will decrease.

You can calculate how many calories you need based on your gender, age, height, weight and physical activity HERE.

 

Eat tasty, eat balanced and – be healthy!

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