Types of fats: What are healthy fats?By Blair Morris
September 23, 2019
Can you tell healthy fats from those that are not? We show you how.
We tend to hear a lot about how a balanced diet is one in which many more healthy fats are included than unhealthy fats. However, many times we do not know what the term ‘good fats’ refers to or how to differentiate between them. Today we show you what are the types of fats and what are healthy fats. Take note!
What are the fats used for?
The first thing we should know about fats is that they are necessary for the functioning of our body. Just as excess fat can lead to problems of obesity and cholesterol, the deficiency of fat intake can lead to health problems, especially the so-called ‘healthy fats’.
Fats have different functions in our body:
- They are part of the cell membranes of our body.
- Fats are responsible for the connection between neurons.
- They are the most important source of energy in the body when we are not eating food.
- Fats are necessary for the correct assimilation of liposoluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K1, K2).
- They increase the absorption of beta-carotene, the best antioxidants against free radicals in the body and found in red, orange or yellow vegetables, such as peppers, red fruits or carrots.
That is, the consumption of fats is essential for the human body, but what we must learn to distinguish is what fats ?. Keep reading.
They are often referred to as unhealthy fats or ‘bad fats’ to trans fats and saturated fats. Although the former is totally harmful to health, the latter can be consumed with some care, since the fact that saturated fats are more or less healthy depends on other variables.
The chemical composition of saturated fats or saturated fatty acids is carbon atoms linked by simple bonds so that the hydrocarbon chain is full of hydrogens. This makes their metabolism slows, so if consumed in excess they favor the appearance of high cholesterol levels, accumulation of fat in the arteries, circulation problems, hypertension, obesity or diabetes, among others.
Saturated fats are recognized as being solid at room temperature and are usually of animal origin, although there are also sources of saturated fats of plant origin. Butter, red meat or lard are saturated fats. Also, other vegetable fats such as coconut oil, palm oil or hazelnut oil are saturated fats.
Generally, the excessive consumption of saturated fats is considered ‘bad’ and although this statement has a certain reason, we must qualify in this regard. Most of the products that we find in the market with saturated fats also contain other ingredients that are harmful to health, such as excess sugars, additives, excess salt or flavor enhancers. Thus, sausages and fatty milk products are usually bad sources of saturated fat, due to the combination with other ingredients.
However, not all saturated fats are so harmful, although they should always be consumed in moderation. For example, coconut oil contains 90% saturated fat, but 50% of its composition is lauric acid, that is, short and medium chain fats that are not as harmful, even if they are consumed moderately.
Because of this, the consumption of saturated fat is not so harmful if it is ingested moderately or minimally, and depends on the type of saturated fat that we consume. Making a sponge cake at home with coconut oil will be much healthier than buying an industrial one made with palm oil (one of the worst saturated fats that exist).
The food market created trans fats in order to create more attractive products at a lower cost. Trans fats are obtained after the process of hydrogenation of vegetable fats so that the unsaturated fatty acids are converted into trans fats.
For example, margarine is a good example of trans fat that many people consume without knowing that it is more harmful than butter.
Within the body, trans fats act like saturated fat of poor quality, increase cholesterol and are very harmful to the heart, so trans fats are the least healthy fats on the market and should be avoided completely or as much as possible.
Once we know which fats are less healthy, it is time to learn to distinguish healthy fats, also called ‘good fats’ and know how they work in the body.
The chemical composition of healthy fats or unsaturated fats has one or more double bonds, so there are not as many hydrogen atoms in your chain. This makes its absorption, decomposition, and elimination much healthier for the human body.
In fact, unsaturated fats are beneficial for the body, help lower high cholesterol levels or keep it in perfect condition and are essential for proper cardiovascular health.
Unsaturated fats are usually distinguished because they are liquid at room temperature, such as extra virgin olive oil. You can distinguish two types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are those that have a single unsaturation, that is, a double bond. It is usually known as oleic acid or omega 9. Olive oil, hazelnuts, peanut oil, are foods rich in monounsaturated fats. They also contain omega 9 other polyunsaturated foods, such as avocados or nuts.
They are chemically distinguished because they have two or more double bonds or in saturation. When we talk about ‘omegas’ it is usually referring to polyunsaturated fats, which are really two: omega 3 and omega 6.
The main sources of polyunsaturated fats are bluefish and some vegetables such as sunflower, pumpkin, nuts and seeds, corn, whole grains, avocado, and soy. Eggs are also a good source of polyunsaturated fats.
Now that you have all the information on the types of fats and which are healthier, it is time to start maintaining a balanced diet, as rich as possible in unsaturated fats or ‘good fats’. Remember that the more natural your diet, the healthier it will be, so the idea is to avoid processed foods as much as possible.