Despite all the negative things said about fat, it is a vital nutrient required by our body to carry out its functions normally. Consuming appropriate amount of dietary fat - of course in the right form, is imperative for remaining healthy. Nevertheless, eating excessive amount of fat or very little of it may give rise to several medical conditions.

In fact, fats are the major resources of the essential fatty acids, which are a vital dietary requisite. They are responsible for providing us with energy to ensure that we can continue with our routine activities seamlessly. Several vitamins, including vitamin A, E, D and K are soluble in fat. In other words, our body can only digest and absorb these vitamins and transport them to various parts of the body with the help of ingested fats. Fats also have an important part to play in keeping the skin and hair healthy. At the same time, fats insulate the different organs of our body against shocks, promote the healthy functioning of the cells and also maintain the normal body temperature. In addition, fats are also an effective defence against numerous diseases. When any substance, irrespective of being a biotic or a chemical, arrives at hazardous levels in the bloodstream, our body is able to dilute the substance effectively or stores it in fat tissues in order to keep the its level at a minimum. In this way, fats help to shield the vital organs from harm till the time when these harmful substances are either metabolized by the body or eliminated from the system via urination, excretion, sebum excretion, intentional or accidental bloodletting or even hair growth.

What are the different types of fat?

It is common to see advertisements for foods claiming that they contain "low fat" or are completely "fat-free". In fact foods with low fat content are recommended by some these days as they are effective in losing excessive body weight. However, nutritionists and dieticians are finding that fats are very complex substance. It has been found that some people who reduce their fat consumption often consume lots of sugar as well as carbohydrates instead. This is, however, not beneficial for your health.

There are various types of fats - some are healthier compared to others and are actually beneficial for our health. Fats are of three major types, which are described briefly below.

Unsaturated fats

This variety of fats is present in fish and plant foods. They are beneficial for the health of the heart, especially when these fats are used as an alternative to trans fats and saturated fats. Some vegetables and fishes that contain high amounts of unsaturated fats include olives, avocados, walnuts, corn, olive oil, soybean, canola and salmon.

Saturated fats

Normally, this category of fats is present in meats as well as various other animal products, including butter and cheese. Plant products like coconut oil and palm oils also contain saturated fats. These oils are regularly used in baked items that are bought from the stores. Consuming excessive saturated fats often raise the cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, thereby increasing the risks of developing heart diseases.

Trans fats

This category of fats are present in stick margarine. In addition, trans fats are also present in specific food products that we buy at the stores or eat in restaurants. Foods like cookies, cakes, fried items and snack foods contain trans fats. If you come across "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils written on the labels of food items, you can be sure that those items contain trans fats. Labels of food products containing trans fats mention about its presence in the items. Trans fat is similar to saturated fats as it can also raise the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream, thereby increasing the risks of developing heart diseases.

Benefits of fats

Everyone wants to eat healthy food to keep healthy and their aim should be to obtain most of their fat requirements from unsaturated fatty acids. As discussed above, unsaturated fatty acids are beneficial for our health and they keep the cholesterol levels in the bloodstream low. In addition, these fats also offer us several anti-inflammatory benefits and help to keep the heart rhythms stable.

Plant-based foods are our main sources of unsaturated fats. They are present in olive oil, canola oils, avocados, flaxseeds, nuts, chia seeds and a number of vegetables.

All types of unsaturated fats are beneficial for our health, but the maximum benefits can be obtained by consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Since our body is unable to produce these fatty acids, it is necessary to obtain them from outside by consuming foods containing them in rich amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for our health, as they support the cardiovascular health, offer anti-inflammatory benefits and also have a major role in the functioning of the brain. These fatty acids are also excellent for maintaining a healthy cholesterol level in the bloodstream, as they enhance the high density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol levels.

Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon and herring are some of the excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, one can also obtain them by consuming chia, walnuts and flaxseeds if they are following a vegetarian diet.

Fats that are beneficial for our health are usually derived from nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish. Good fats, also known as unsaturated fats, are different from saturated fats as they have lesser number of hydrogen atoms bound the their carbon chains (forming hydrocarbonates). Healthy or good fats are in liquid state when kept at room temperature. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are solid at room temperature. Good fats can be divided into two broad categories - monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats

When you are in an Italian restaurant and dunk your bread in olive oil, you can be certain that what you are getting is by and large monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats contain a solitary carbon-to-carbon double bond. As a result, this category of fat has two lesser hydrogen atoms compared to a saturated fat. Moreover, this type of fat also bends at the double bond. This structure of monounsaturated fats keep them in a liquid state at room temperature.

As mentioned earlier, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados and most nuts are excellent sources of monounsaturated fats. In addition, sunflower oils and high-oleic safflower too contain high concentration of monounsaturated fats.

The Seven Countries Study undertaken during the 1960s discovered that monounsaturated fats may be beneficial for our health. This study showed for the first time that instances of heart diseases were fewer in people in Greece as well as other regions of the Mediterranean region despite the fact that they had fat-rich diets. However, the primary fat content in the diet of the people in these countries did not comprise saturated animal fat, which is mainly responsible for higher rates of heart ailments. They mostly consumed olive oils, which are rich in monounsaturated fat content. The findings of this study led to a surge in interest in using olive oil and also following the "Mediterranean diet". Today, the Mediterranean diet is considered to be a healthy way of eating.

As of date there is no standard fixed for daily monounsaturated fat intake, but, according to the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, one can consume any amount of this type of fat together with the other beneficial fat - polyunsaturated fat. It is said to be ideal if one substitutes saturated fat and trans fat consumption with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats

If you are using liquid cooking oil, it is most likely to be polyunsaturated fat, as most liquid oils belong to this category of fats. Some common examples of this type of oils are sunflower oil, corn oil and safflower oil. It is worth mentioning here that polyunsaturated fats are essential for our well-being. In other words, these oils are necessary for the body to carry out is normal functions without any hitch. Unfortunately, our body is incapable of making polyunsaturated fats and, hence, we have to obtain them from outside by consuming foods that contain them. The main purpose of polyunsaturated fats is to form the cover of the nerves as well as compose the cell membranes. In addition, these fats are also required for muscle movement, clotting of blood and curing inflammation.

Characteristically, all polyunsaturated fats contain one or additional double bonds in their carbon chain. Polyunsaturated fats can again be divided under two categories - omega-3 fatty acids plus omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers accompanying these fatty acids indicate the distance between the first double bond and the start of the carbon chain. Both these polyunsaturated fats offer us multiple health benefits.

Replacing saturated fats and also extremely refined carbohydrates with polyunsaturated fats in our diet helps to lower the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream, thereby enhancing our cholesterol profile. At the same time, consuming polyunsaturated fats also helps us to reduce triglycerides in the system.

Fatty fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are some of the excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, plant products like unhydrogenated soybean oil and canola oil also contain high amounts of this beneficial fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are also present in walnuts and flaxseeds in significant amounts.

Eating omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful in putting off as well as curing stroke and heart disease. Apart from lowering high blood pressure, reducing triglycerides and improving the level of HDL or "good" cholesterol, polyunsaturated fats may also be helpful in reducing the requirement of corticosteroid medications in people suffering from rheumatic arthritis. Several studies related to the health benefits offered by omega-3 fatty acids have been undertaken over the years and they have shown that this type of fat is effective in decreasing the chances of developing dementia. However, these studies are not conclusive and some of the findings also have major errors.

Moreover, researchers have also linked omega-6 fatty acids to provide protection from heart disease. Some foods that enclose high linoleic acid content as well as omega-6 fatty acids are vegetable oils like soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil and walnut oil.

Risks from saturated fats and trans fats

As discussed earlier that though fats are essential, not all of them are healthy. If one fills his/her diet mostly with saturated fats it may result is serious health issues. Saturated fats are harmful because they increase the level of "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream. Hence, people who have more saturated fats in their diet are very likely to develop cardiovascular disease and even suffer stroke.

Foods derived from animal sources mostly contain saturated fats. Foods that are high in saturated fats include processed red meat. Findings some of the recent studies have debated on the exact negative impact saturated fats can have on our health, while Harvard has recommended substituting saturated fats in one's diet with unsaturated fats. For example, consuming grilled salmon rather than a burger would help to shift from saturated fat to unsaturated fat.

It may be noted that trans fat is a type of fat that does not have any nutritional value. Food manufacturers create trans fat by synthetically converting unsaturated fatty acids into saturated fats, which are solids at room temperature. The effect of this type of fat on the cholesterol levels is the worst, as they work to bring down the level of HDL or "good" cholesterol in the bloodstream, while raising the level of the detrimental LDL or "bad" cholesterol. Moreover, trans fats are also extremely inflammatory and they may increase the risks of developing chronic diseases. In addition, they also work to increase insulin resistance, thereby contributing to development of diabetes.

Trans fats are mostly present in packaged and processed food items, which also include margarine and some baked foods. If you want to live a healthy life, it is advisable that you should always stay away from such foods. It is recommended that you completely get rid of trans fats from your diet in order to ensure your well-being.

Packaged and processed foods contain trans fat, which is considered to be the worst type of dietary fat. Trans fact is basically a by-product of a process known as hydrogenation that converts healthy cooking oils into solids with a view to prevent the food from decomposing or rotting. As of now, scientists have not been able to find a single health benefit of using trans fat. Moreover, it is also not certain what amount of trans fat consumption can be termed as safe. As a result, the United States has imposed a blanket ban on the use of trans fats.

During the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly foods like vegetable shortenings and margarines contained trans fats. With the passage of time, as food manufacturers learnt different ways to utilize partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fat was found in almost everything ranging from commercial pastries and cookies to fast-foods like French fries.

Consuming foods that are loaded with trans fats are very harmful as they raise the level of detrimental LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the blood and, at the same time, reduces the level of the beneficial HDL or "good" cholesterol in the bloodstream. Consuming foods containing trans fats may also result in inflammation, which has been linked to diabetes, stroke, heart disease and a number of chronic health conditions. These harmful fats also add to insulin resistance, thereby increasing the chances of developing the condition known as type 2 diabetes mellitus. Even consumption tiny amounts of this type of fats can prove to be detrimental for our health. It is shocking to learn that consuming every 2% of trans fat a day can increase the chances of developing heart disease by 23%.


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