The Facts about the Types of Fat
You probably grew up hearing that fat is bad for you. But now, science has dispelled that myth, and the recommended diets of today tout how essential healthy fats are for our bodies and brains.
The Facts about the Types of Fat
The idea that fat is bad originated in the 1940’s when a few studies showed a correlation between high-fat diets and high-cholesterol levels. These results lead to the idea that low-fat diets are better. By the 1980’s, this idea was widely accepted across the United States.
However, the 1980’s was the decade that lead to what is commonly called the obesity epidemic. The low-fat diets that were supposed to improve health ended up turning followers into sugar-burning lethargic zombies.
Several aspects worked together, but as far as food consumption, the problem stemmed from the transition to low-fat. To replace fat, people turned to carbohydrates. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels and can lead to many serious health issues, not to mention severe fatigue.
The main problem, though, was the misconception of fats: different types of fat and how they affect the body. Today, there are many diets and studies to suggest high-fat diets are better than low-fat, such as ketogenic and low carb diets.
The studies in the 1940’s still hold some truth. Fat can lead to a rise in cholesterol levels, but only certain fats raise cholesterol. These are the fats to avoid.
Healthy Fat: Unsaturated Fat
Fat can be good for many reasons. In fact, healthy fat can improve cholesterol levels! Other benefits of healthy fat include:
- Major source of energy
- Helps the body absorb vitamins and minerals
- Builds cell lining or membranes
- Keeps the body warm
- Protects organs
- Aids in balancing hormones
Unsaturated fat is considered heart-friendly fat and the healthiest of the three types of fat. Unsaturated fat has two forms: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated which includes omega 3 and omega 6.
Unsaturated fat gets its name from its chemical structure. Unsaturated refers to the fact that unsaturated fatty acid (what makes up unsaturated fat) molecules are not completely surrounded by hydrogen atoms due to being double bonded.
Unsaturated fat contains one (monounsaturated) or more (polyunsaturated) double bonds. This means a single strand of unsaturated fatty acid might contain several carbon and hydrogen compounds linked with other carbon and hydrogen compounds.
The dashes signify a bond. This example image has two double bonds. In this case, the unsaturated fatty acid is technically polyunsaturated.
The double bonds mean the fatty acid can separate, so it does not clog arteries. Unsaturated fat also increases the creation of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. HDL can remove “bad” cholesterol from arteries and take it to the liver to be broken down.
Each of the types of unsaturated fat has various benefits. Monounsaturated protects the heart, supports weight loss, and supports insulin sensitivity. Polyunsaturated lower “bad” cholesterol. Omega 3 reduces triglycerides, slows plaque buildup in arteries, and lowers blood pressure. Omega 6 reduces risk of diabetes, lowers blood pressure, and controls blood sugar.
Unsaturated fat is generally found in vegetables, nuts, and fish.
The lists below break down the types of unsaturated fats and some foods they can be found in.
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Fatty fish
- Vegetable oil
- Leafy greens
- Vegetable oils
The recommended daily amount of healthy fat is between 44 to 77 grams per day based on a 2,000 calories diet.
Additionally, most Americans consume too much omega six. The recommended ratio to consume omega 6 compared to omega 3 is 4:1. Most Americans consume 10:1 or more.
Unhealthy Fat: Saturated and Trans Fat
Saturated fats are completely opposite from unsaturated fat. Chemically, saturated fat is not double bonded. Instead, it is a single strand of carbon atoms surrounded by hydrogen atoms.
Since saturated fatty acid is in long strands with no gaps, the chains can pack tightly. These fatty acid strings increase the creation of “bad” cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The increase in LDL and the saturated fat clog arteries.
Saturated fat increases cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. It is best to avoid or limit foods with saturated fat.
- Butter and margarine
- Fatty meat such as beef and pork
- Skin of chicken
- Full-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Coconut oil and cream
- Palm oil
However, some of these saturated fatty foods are considered better than others. For example, dairy products are better than red meat. Also, grass-fed meat is better than non-grass-fed meat.
The worst fat: trans fat.
Trans fat is the worst kind of fat. It is found in small amounts naturally in animal foods such as meat and dairy. But most sources of trans fat are made through an industrial process called hydrogenation. The hydrogenation process is primarily used to turn healthy oils into solids to prevent them from going bad.
Additionally, trans fat helps foods last longer. It is found in many baked and fried foods, such as:
- Microwave popcorn
- Frozen pizza
This list pretty much covers every tasty treat, sadly. But it is trans fat that gives these foods it's great taste and texture.
Even though these foods taste wonderful, they should be avoided. Trans fat increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes.
Trans fat foods often are sugary. This combination increases the danger of one of the bigger side effects of trans fat: decreased insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is the key to helping cells absorb glucose. Decreased insulin sensitivity means your body generates more insulin when you consume glucose which increases initial glucose absorption. Cells receiving too much glucose will become inflamed and can lead to hypoglycemia.
Trans fat and sugar is not a good combination.
When focusing on consuming fat, replace as many, if not all, instances of fat consumption with unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat will improve the health of your heart and will provide good energy for your body.
D’Souza, G. (2018, April 27). Saturated vs. unsaturated fats: Which is better for you? Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321655.php
Harvard T.H. Chan. (2018, July 24). Types of Fat. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/
La Berge, A. F. (2008, February 23). How the Ideology of Low Fat Conquered America | Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/jhmas/article/63/2/139/772615
Liou, S. (2017, February 11). Fatty Acids - HOPES Huntington's Disease Information. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/fatty-acids/
Madell, R. (2016, January 20). Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease/good-fats-vs-bad-fats#1
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, February 02). Learn the facts about fats. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550
Moll, J., PharmD. (2017, August 27). The Key Differences Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/difference-between-saturated-fats-and-unsaturated-fats-697517
Pasquale, N. (2017, December 03). Types of Fats & Understanding the Difference. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://urbanremedy.com/fats-real-skinny-healthy-fats-harmful-fats/
Payne, J. (n.d.). Low Cholesterol Diets & High Cholesterol Foods. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol-and-diet/low-cholesterol-diets-and-foods
Wax, E., RD, Zieve, D., MD, Ogilvie, I., PhD, & A.D.A.M. Editorial Team. (2016, April 24). Facts about polyunsaturated fats: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000747.htm
WebMD. (n.d.). What Types of Fat Are in Food? Retrieved September 11, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/types-fat-in-foods#3