good and bad types of fat

It is very funny the way everybody seems to be pointing accusing finger at "fat" as being the major cause of their gaining unwanted extra body weight. However, the truth is that this somewhat important macronutrient has simply been and continues to be grossly misunderstood by a generality of the public as being bad for their health. To most people therefore, it is best to avoid fat completely if at all possible in order to lose weight and keep it off for good.

While the misapprehensions may have varying origins, one of the most apparent sources could be traced to the generally accepted fact that 1 gram of fat contains approximately 9 calories as compared to carbohydrates and proteins that have 4 calories each. While this fact is true, it is more true that the fact that fat tastes simply delicious makes it very tempting for people – even health-conscious individuals – to resist consuming too much of it in their diets as compared to carbohydrates and proteins.

Fat give food products a particular texture that is satiating and which makes them taste good. Without it, food is tasteless, and requires something extra to perk up the flavor and appeal. So it is more of an issue of eating the right amount of fat and more importantly eating the right type of fat and not just fat itself that is the problem. Furthermore, a lot of people are simply consuming very little amount of the good fats needed to maximize health and consuming a lot more significant amounts of the bad fats.

Despite the numerous acknowledged negative impact of fat on weight loss and on general wellbeing, fat by itself is not that bad. Fatty acids which are the formative components of triglycerides vary according to the chemical structure of their component parts. Thus their chemical composition determines their physical characteristics, nutritional values and physiological functions. So, while all oils are fats, not all fats are oils; and equally, not all fats are bad.

Dietary fats, or triglycerides, are the fats in foods. Triglycerides are molecules comprised of fatty acids (a chain-like molecule of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) which are linked in groups of three to a backbone of one molecule of the alcohol called glycerol. During the process of digestion of fats, the fatty acids are separated from their glycerol backbone.

Dietary fats are either saturated or unsaturated – a reference to the relative number of hydrogen atoms attached to a carbon chain. Fat-containing foods generally have mixtures of fatty acids making some of them to be mostly saturated and other mostly unsaturated. There are basically three major types of naturally occurring fatty acids which are the – saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquids.

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These fats are solid at room temperature with a high melting point and also chemically stable both within the body and in food. Saturated fats are found normally in animal products such as fatty meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, and ice cream. Saturated fat can also be found in some vegetable oils such as palm, palm kernel oil and coconut oils.

Although saturated fatty acids are generally not considered as bad as trans fatty acids, too much consumption can however increase the body’s levels of cholesterol including the low density lipoprotein (LDL) also known as "bad" cholesterol. While high levels of LDL increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases as they keep cholesterol in blood circulation and carry them to be deposited in the arteries, they can also increase inflammation in the body.

Monounsaturated Fats

They are liquid at room temperature and are believed to be the healthiest of fat. Monounsaturated fatty acids are known to reduce the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs or the "bad" cholesterol) and increase the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs or the "good" cholesterol). HDL cholesterol helps carry plaques away from the arterial wall to the liver and subsequently removed from the body. They also remove cholesterol from the blood by transferring it to body tissues where it is used to make hormones and other substances the body needs.

Oils with the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats include olive oil (70%), canola oil (57%), peanut oil (48%), palm oil (42), and almonds (35%). Olive oil that is labeled "extra virgin" is made without heat or solvents and usually from the first pressing of the olives. Olive oil is also ideal for use as cooking oil as it has the highest oxidation threshold. This means that olive oil remains stable at higher temperatures and doesn’t easily become hydrogenated or saturated.

Polyunsaturated Fats

These fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and are considered more healthful than saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats also lower the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) but if consumed in excess can also lower the good cholesterol high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Vegetable oils such as Safflower oil (72%), sunflower oil (63%), corn oil (58%), Soybean oil (57%), and cottonseed oil (48%) are high in polyunsaturated fat. They are also very sensitive to heat and light and they also oxidize readily making them susceptible to rancidity.

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Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are polyunsaturated dietary fats which cannot be manufactured by the body and must therefore be obtained from diet. Essential fatty acids are divided into two groups, linolenic acid (Omega-6s) and alpha-linolenic acid (Omega-3s).

Omega-3

Omega-3 fats are found in higher concentration in flaxseed or linseed oil, walnut oil, and canola or rapeseed oil. They are known to reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels – results believed to be due to their anti-clotting effect.

Omega-6

Vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, safflower, primrose, cottonseed, canola, and soya oil are the most concentrated sources of omega-6 fatty acids in diets. Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to have a lowering effect on both LDL and HDL cholesterol.

Consuming too much omega-6 in the form of refined vegetable oils reduces the amount of available omega-3 fatty acids thus creating a perfect environment for inflammation. It is believed that the typical western diet has too much of omega-6 which compete with the more beneficial omega-3, therefore it is recommended that the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio be reduced to 4:1.

Trans Fatty Acids

These are considered the “bad boys” of the fat family. The majority of trans fatty acids in diet are created by hydrogenation – a process whereby monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids which are liquid at room temperature are treated to make them solid and more stable at room temperature. The hydrogenation process extends the shell life so the oil can be used repeatedly. While hydrogenation does not make the fat completely saturated, it however makes the fat behave more like saturated fat.

A lot of snacks such as donuts, French fries, muffins, cookies, croissants, pastries, chips and a whole host of others are typically high in trans fatty acids. Nearly all fried or commercially baked goods have some trans fats which at times may be as high as 45-50% of their fat composition.

Trans fatty acids also occur naturally in small amounts in lamb, beef, milk, and cheese as they are created in the rumen of cows and sheep. These fatty acids have also been associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Trans fatty acids raise total blood cholesterol levels and like saturated fats raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and reduces HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.