- Dietary fats come in several types, with some being healthier than others.
- The most beneficial type of fat is monounsaturated fat.
- Trans fat, which is common in processed foods, is the most harmful type of fat.
What are fats?
Fats are macronutrients that are essential for several bodily functions. It provides energy and protects the skeleton and nerves. Fat also helps other nutrients to function efficiently.
They are classified in several ways, depending on their attributes:
- Fats or fatty acids refer to any fat, usually in solid form at room temperature.
- Lipids refer to any fat, regardless of its form.
- Oils are fats in liquid form at room temperature.
- Animal fats include butter, cream, and fats in meats.
- Vegetable fats include fats from olives, avocados, peanut, flaxseed, and corn.
All fats, regardless of type, contain nine calories per gram, but they influence health differently.
1. Saturated fats
Saturated fats, sometimes called solid fats, are solid at room temperature. They are common in animal meats and meat products, dairy products, processed foods, and some vegetable oils.
These fats are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. Consuming too many saturated fats may increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body, resulting in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.
2. Unsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats are mostly derived from plant oils. They are liquid at room temperature. Health experts consider them to be “good” fats.
There are two main types of unsaturated fats:
Monounsaturated fats can help lower “bad” cholesterol levels and maintain healthy levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. However, you will only reap this health benefit if you reduce your intake of saturated fat. Eating foods high in monounsaturated fats may also lower your risk of heart disease.
Foods rich in monounsaturated fats include olives and olive oil, nuts and nut butter, and avocados.
According to nutritionists, polyunsaturated fats are good for health, especially the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish and algae. The Office of Dietary Statistics says it could reduce triglycerides in the blood and improve heart, brain, joint, and eye health.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect against heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels and inflammation, but further research is needed.
The omega-6 fatty acid is another type of polyunsaturated fat found in vegetable oils and processed foods. An excess of omega-6 may cause inflammation.
Foods rich in polyunsaturated fats include oily fish, safflower, grapeseed, soybean, and sunflower oils, nuts, seeds, and pastured eggs.
3. Trans fats
Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are products of a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils, making them more solid.
Trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats are easy to use, cheap to produce, have a long shelf life, and improve food taste. They are commonly used in processed foods and fast-food chains.
Foods rich in trans fats include fried foods, baked goods, packaged foods, fast foods, pizza dough, cookies, and crackers.
Trans fat also appears as “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredients list.
Dietary fat recommendations
The World Health Organization recommends the following fat intake guidelines to avoid unhealthy weight gain:
- total fat – less than 30% of your total caloric intake
- saturated fat – less than 10% of your total caloric intake
- trans fat – less than 1% of your total caloric intake
Source: Medical News Today