Dietary fats play a big part in following a healthy lifestyle. In this article we’ll learn about different types of fat, which are the good ones and which are the bad ones, how they can help us and where we can find them.
As we learnt so far, our body fuels itself with energy from three macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats. The main form we use fat is triglycerides.
What’s a triglyceride? When three fatty acids meet a molecule of glycerol, they are attached to the backbone of that molecule, and form a triglyceride. Those triglycerides can be classified in many categories, one of them being by the length of their carbon chains.
Short-chain fatty acids: Fewer than 6 carbons.
Medium-chain fatty acids: 6–12 carbons.
Long-chain fatty acids: 13–21 carbons.
Very-long-chain fatty acids: 22 or more carbons.
We usually consume foods that contains long-chain fatty acids that are absorbed into the bloodstream and stored by the body, using them when needed, while the short-chain ones are used instantly by the liver to create energy.
As hard as it might seem, fat is essential for our body’s normal functions:
Provides energy: having 9 calories/gram, fats are a great source of energy
Hormone and gene control: Balances the production of certain hormones such as steroid hormone and the genes in charge of growth and metabolism
Brain health: a suitable fat quantity is beneficial for the brain health
Ease the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D,E and K
Flavor and satiety: a bit of fat added to food increases their tastiness and satiety
Keeps our body warm and protects our organs
Good vs Bad Fats
Depending on the number of double bonds between carbons in their structures, there are different types of fat: monounsaturated fat(one double bond in their carbon chains), polyunsaturated fat(at least 2 double bonds), saturated fat(no double bond = their bonds are “saturated” with hydrogen and trans fat(hydrogens are positioned across from each other rather than side by side.).
MUFAs and PUFAs are considered to be the good kind of fat, that provides some health benefits to our body such as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, depression and other health conditions. They tend to be more liquid at room temperature and fairly stable for cooking purposes. One important MUFA is oleic acid, which can be found in olive oil, while most important PUFAs are omega-3s and omega-6s found in fish.
On the other hand, the bad kind of fat are very stable at a high temperature, less likely to be damaged during cooking than PUFAs, and are solid at a room temperature. They can lead to high LDL(bad) cholesterol levels, increase inflammation, impaired artery function, insulin resistance and excess belly fat. Trans fat can occur naturally in small amounts in food, but the majority used in processed foods is obtain by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats fats to create a product that functions more like a saturated fat.
Sources of healthy fats
Most foods contain a mix of different fats, but certain ones are rich in a specific type of fat. Below are examples of foods rich in different types of healthy fats.
These foods are also rich in omega-6s.
Foods rich in omega-3s include:
Healthy foods that are high in saturated fat include:
Whole-milk dairy, such as full-fat yogurt
To sum up:
Fat is a crucial part of the good function of our body.
Adding fat to food increases its flavour and the feeling of fullness.
Consuming the right fats in the right amounts, brings along some health benefits such as: reducing the risk of heart diseases and enhancing the overall health.
This article has been written by Oana Mocian – Registered Dietetician
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