Decoding the types of fats
Fat is perhaps the most complex class of dietary component in regards to nutritional value and its effect to our body. This article breaks down the different types of fat we consume on a daily basis to help you make better judgment when choosing which oils or fat to use for your optimal health.
Saturated Fats are found in animal fats such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, egg yolks, lard and fatty meats. Saturated fat are also found in plants such as coconut, palm oil and avocado.
While saturated fats have been linked with high cholesterol and heart disease, research suggests plant-based saturated fats behave differently than animal-based saturated fats and trans-fats, and may have a lesser impact on cholesterol.
Unsaturated Fats are generally recognized for their potential health benefits, these fats can come from both animal and plant products. There are 2 types:
Monounsaturated Fats such as avocado, olives, peanut and canola, have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar control and decrease risk of heart disease.
Polyunsaturated Fats such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cotton seed, and sesame seeds oils. This fats also have a positive impact on blood cholesterol, decrease risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. While the body can make some polyunsaturated fats on its own, omega-3 and omega-6 (sub type of polyunsaturated fatty acids), must be obtained from diet because we cannot produce it ourselves.
- Omega-3: Commonly found in walnuts, seeds (particularly flaxseed), and fatty fish (like salmon and mackerel). They appear to decrease risk of heart disease, protect against irregular heartbeats, help lower blood pressure levels and has anti-inflammatory effects. While still good for you, the body cannot convert and use plant-based omega-3 fatty acids as compared to those found in fish.
- Omega-6: Commonly found in corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as nuts and seeds. Adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are beneficial to improved immune response. However, omega-6 fatty acids tend to be over-supplied while omega-3 fatty acids are under-supplied due to high consumption of processed foods. This overwhelming intake of omega-6 affects the function of omega-3 fatty acids, causing health problems associated with heart diseases and inflammation.
A healthy diet should contain a balanced omega-6:omega-3 ratio. Human beings are evolved eating a diet with an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of about 1:1. Modern diets have ratios ranging between 15:1 to 17:1. Studies have concluded that an exceptionally high omega-6:omega-3 ratio promotes development of many chronic diseases, while a reduced omega-6:omega-3 ratio can prevent or reverse these diseases.
Furthermore, a high omega-6:omega-3 ratio is especially detrimental to carriers of certain genetic variations. Carriers of APOA5 gene tend to have higher triglycerides levels; this population of carrier therefore has an increased risk for atherosclerosis. Other gene that are affected by this ratio include CD36 and TCF7L2. Lowering the omega-6:omega-3 ratio is particularly important for these variant carriers to prevent diseases.
Trans Fatty Acids – Trans fats are produced when liquid oil is made into a solid fat, such as shortening or margarine. This process is called hydrogenation. Trans fats act like saturated fats and can raise your cholesterol level.
What changes should I make to my diet?
Focus on replacing foods high in saturated fat with foods that include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. But a word of caution — don’t go overboard even on healthy fats. All fats, including the healthy ones, are high in calories. So consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of other types of fat, not in addition to them.
Here are some tips to help you make over the fat in your diet:
- To avoid trans fat, check food labels and look for the amount of trans fat listed. By law a serving of food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as 0 grams. Therefore, it’s important to also check ingredient lists “partially hydrogenated.”
- Use oil instead of solid fats. For example, saute with olive oil instead of butter, and use canola oil when baking.
- Prepare fish, such as salmon and mackerel, instead of meat at least twice a week to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Limit sizes to 120g to 250g of cooked seafood a serving, and bake or broil seafood instead of frying.
- Choose lean meat and skinless poultry. Trim visible fat from meat and poultry, and remove skin from poultry.
- Snack smart. Many popular processed snack foods are high in fat, especially solid fats. Be sure to check food labels for saturated fat. Better yet, snack on whole fruits and vegetables.
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