Fats are an important macronutrient. Dietary fat comes in a variety of forms, some of which are much healthier than others.
Fat is required for a variety of bodily functions. It is a source of energy that also protects the skeleton and nerves. Fat also allows other nutrients to perform their functions.
However, not all dietary fats are comparable in terms of health benefits:
- Saturated and trans fats may boost cholesterol and put you at risk for disease.
- Unsaturated fats, which can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, are beneficial to one’s wellbeing.
Saturated and trans fats can be found in meats, dairy products, snack foods, and baked goods. Some sources of unsaturated — healthful — fats include nuts, oils, seeds, and avocados.
We look at the various types of fats in detail below, including which ones are the healthiest and which foods contain them.
What are fats?
Fats are categorised in a variety of ways based on their characteristics:
- Fats or fatty acids: These words may refer to any form of fat, but the word “fats” typically refers to solid fats at room temperature.
- Lipids: This term encompasses all types of lipids, whether liquid or solid.
- Oils: Any fat that is liquid at room temperature is classified as an oil.
- Animal fats: Among these are butter, cream, and fats in meats, such as lard.
- Vegetable fats: Olive and avocado fats, as well as olive, peanut, flaxseed, and corn oils, are examples.
Humans and many other animals consume fats as part of their diet. Fat is stored in the body for the purposes of defence, warmth, and energy.
As compared to less energy-dense carbohydrates and proteins, which have around 4 calories per gramme, both fats have the same amount of calories — 9 calories per gramme.
Different types of fat have different effects on health, especially blood and heart health.
The effects of different fats on the body are examined in greater detail in the following pages.
Saturated fats, also known as stable fats, are solid at room temperature. These fatty acids’ basic carbon structure is “saturated” with hydrogen atoms.
If a person eats too much saturated fat over time, it can increase health risks.
People should consume no more than 13 grammes of saturated fat per day, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Saturated fat can be found in the following foods:
- meats and meat products from animals
- processed foods, such as baked goods, snack foods, and french fries, except those that are fat-free
- coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter are examples of vegetable oils.
Instead, a person should eat more healthful foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, beans, whole grains, and vegetables to replace saturated fat sources.
Unsaturated fats, which are often derived from plant oils, are liquid at room temperature. These are considered “healthy” fats by healthcare professionals.
Unsaturated fat is divided into two types:
The hydrogen atoms in monounsaturated fat molecules are not saturated; each fat molecule has bonded with one hydrogen atom.
Monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol while maintaining healthy levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
However, merely increasing monounsaturated fat in one’s diet will not have this effect unless one also decreases saturated fat consumption.
Many health experts believe that eating a diet high in monounsaturated fats will lower one’s risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are abundant in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease in studies.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in the following foods:
- olives and olive oil
- nuts and nut butters
A number of hydrogen atoms are not saturated in the spaces around each polyunsaturated fat molecule.
Polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and algae, are good for your health, according to nutritionists.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol and probably inflammation.
However, a large-scale Cochrane review found no substantial benefits for heart health from omega-3 supplements. More testing would be needed to determine the effects with certainty.
Omega-6 fatty acids are another form of polyunsaturated fat. Vegetable oils and refined foods are the most popular sources.
Excessive omega-6 consumption, which is normal in the typical American diet, can lead to inflammation.
Polyunsaturated fats can be found in the following foods:
- oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, trout, salmon, and herring
- safflower, grapeseed, soybean, and sunflower oils
- nuts, seeds, and pastured eggs
Trans fats are manufactured. They’re the product of a method that turns liquid vegetable oils into solids by adding hydrogen. Trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fats aren’t necessary, and they’re bad for your health.
Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol levels while lowering HDL cholesterol levels. Heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes risk are all increased as a result of this.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, trans fats are responsible for 500,000 cardiovascular deaths per year.
Food companies discovered that trans fats were simple to use and inexpensive to manufacture, and they quickly became mainstream. They also have a long shelf life and can enhance the flavour of food.
Trans fats have become popular in fast-food chains and other restaurants because they can be used several times in commercial fryers.
The WHO, on the other hand, has urged policymakers to exclude trans fats from the global food supply. Trans fats have been removed from the majority of industrial food processing companies’ products.
Sources of trans fats can include:
- fried foods, such as french fries
- doughnuts, pies, pastries, biscuits, and other baked goods
- pizza dough, cookies, and crackers
- stick margarines and shortenings
- packaged foods
- fast foods
If the word “partially hydrogenated oils” appears on a food label, it means the substance contains trans fats.
Trans fat consumption does not exceed 5–6% of total caloric intake, according to the American Heart Association. Eating some quantity of these fats, on the other hand, raises health risks.
Dietary fat suggestions
To stop excessive weight gain, according to WHO:
- Total fat consumption should be less than 30% of total caloric consumption.
- Saturated fat consumption does not exceed 10% of total caloric intake.
- Trans fat consumption does not exceed 1% of total caloric intake.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can be substituted for saturated and trans fats, according to health experts. Overall, the diet should be nutritious and have enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.
There are some fats that are better than others. Understanding the distinctions between different types of fat, reading labels carefully, and making healthy dietary choices are all important.