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Know Your Fats

The "skinny" on fats and oils.

Saturated | Unsaturated | Essential Fatty Acids | Hydrogentated Fats | Trans Fats | Coconut Oil

Triglycerides are the main form of fat in our bodies and in our diets. They provide us with energy, insulation, and protect our internal organs from damage. They also enable our bodies to metabolise proteins and carbohydrates more efficiently. Despite the many benefits triglycerides have, too much in our blood circulation can cause major health problems, such as heart disease. Knowing the right fats to eat can help reduce overall cholesterol levels and help us to maintain a healthy body. Triglycerides can be further divided into the following categories:

Saturated fats

These are considered the most detrimental to your health. They usually are solid at room temperature and are derived from animal products and are found mostly in food from animals, like beef, veal, lamb, pork, lard, poultry fat, butter, cream, whole milk dairy products, cheeses, and from some plants, such as tropical oils. Tropical oils include coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils that are found in commercial cakes, cookies, and salty snack foods. Unlike other plant oils, these oils have a lot of saturated fatty acids. Some processed foods (such as frozen dinners and canned foods) can be quite high in saturated fat — it' s best to check package labels before purchasing these types of foods. When looking at their molecular structure, saturated fats contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms (hence "saturated" with hydrogen atoms). Eating a diet high in these has been strongly correlated to heart disease.

Unsaturated fats

An unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there is one or more double bond in the fatty acid chain.
A fat molecule is monounsaturated if it contains one double bond, and polyunsaturated if it contains more than one double bond.
Where double bonds are formed, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. Thus, a saturated fat is "saturated" with hydrogen atoms.
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilise heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

There are two types of “good” unsaturated fats:

• Monounsaturated fats

This type of lipid lowers "bad cholesterol", LDL, and leaves the "good cholesterol" HDL levels the same. Monounsaturated fats include canola, olive and peanut oils, and avocados.

• Polyunsaturated fats

This type of fat tends to lower both LDL and HDL levels (remember - we want to keep high levels of HDL). Polyunsaturated fats include safflower, sesame, sunflower seeds, and many other nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can't make these, so they must come from food. An excellent way to get omega-3 fats is by eating oily fish 2-3 times a week - sardines, salmon, mackerel Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.

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Essential fatty acids

The body can synthesise most of the fats it needs from the diet. However, two essential fatty acids, linolenic (omega-3) and linoleic (omega-6) acid, cannot be synthesised in the body and must be obtained from food. These basic fats, found in plant foods, are used to build specialised fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in the normal functioning of ALL tissues of the body.
They are also used as a component in the production of eicosanoids, a type of hormone used by the body to help regulate blood pressure, blood clot formation, brain function and immune function.
Documented benefits include prevention of atherosclerosis, reduced incidence of heart disease and stroke, and relief from the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, menstrual pain, and joint pain. Omega-3 fatty acid levels have also been associated with decreased breast cancer risk.

Deficiencies in these fatty acids lead to a host of symptoms and disorders including abnormalities in the liver and the kidneys, reduced growth rates, decreased immune function, depression, and dryness of the skin. Adequate intake of the essential fatty acids results in numerous health benefits.

It is not only important to incorporate good sources of omega-3 and omega-6s in your diet, but also consume these fatty acids in the proper ratio.
Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body, and therefore excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids can inhibit omega-3s. Ideally, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be between 1:1 and 5:1. Instead, most people consume these fatty acids at a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 between 10:1 and 25:1, and are consequently unable to reap the benefits of omega-3s.
This imbalance is due to a reliance on processed foods and oils, which are now common in the Western diet. To combat this issue it is necessary to eat a low-fat diet with minimal processed foods and with naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids.
A lower omega-6:omega-3 ratio is desirable for reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. Common sources of essential fatty acids include vegetable oils, fish, grains, seeds, and vegetables. Supplements of omega-6 (Evening Primrose Oil) and omega-3 (Flaxseed Oil) fatty acids are also available at health shops and pharmacies.

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Hydrogenated fats

During hydrogenation, hydrogen atoms are added back to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats to protect against rancidity from bacteria or air exposure. As a consequence, this process causes hydrogenated fats to become saturated fats. If a food label states the words partially hydrogenated oils among its first ingredients, that means that it contains a lot of trans-fatty acids and saturated fats.

Trans-fatty acids - (TFA's)

TFA's are formed during the process of making cooking oils, margarine, and shortening and are in commercially fried foods, baked goods, cookies, and crackers. Some are naturally found in small amounts in some animal products, such as beef, pork, lamb, and the butterfat in butter and milk. In studies, TFA's tend to raise our total blood cholesterol. TFA's also tend to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. One study found that the four main sources of trans fatty acids in women's diets come from margarine, meat (beef, pork, or lamb), cookies, and white bread.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a 2018 deadline for food companies to eliminate trans fat from their products (Obviously they'll still be in products like meat and cheese where they occur naturally.) The move comes after decades of research finding consuming trans fat is strongly linked to heart disease and obesity.

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