The Skinny on the Fats We Eat
Written by OmegaXL on May 15, 2014
Sometimes dietary fat gets a bad rap, but the truth is we need fat to give us energy, help us build structures in the body, and absorb vitamins. In fact, there are some types of fat we literally can’t live without.
The main way fats are classified is based on whether they are solid or liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature whereas saturated fats are solid.
Unsaturated fats are broken down into two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The distinction between mono- and polyunsaturated fats is based on how many double bonds are in their carbon chains. The more double bonds there are, the more solid the fat is.
Monounsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as olive and flax seed oils. Research shows eating these types of oils can help keep your heart healthy by lowering bad cholesterol (LDLs) and raising good cholesterol (HDLs).
Keeping with our rule of twos, polyunsaturated fats also have two main types: omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. These two types of fat are called “essential fatty acids” because we need them to survive and cannot make them on our own. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are the building blocks of our brain and nervous system and also help the body perform many other functions.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils like soybean, corn and safflower oils. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in flax seeds and walnut oil, however the most beneficial types of omega-3s, DHA and EPA, are found in seafood.
Saturated fat is mostly found in animal foods, such as milk, cheese, and red meat, but it is also found in tropical oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fat is shown to raise your bad cholesterol levels, so it is generally recommended that you limit your intake of saturated fat to 10% of your total calories. All fat has 9 calories per gram, so that means 20 grams or less per day for most people.
Though naturally occurring trans fats can be found in miniscule amounts in some foods, most trans fats are created in a laboratory. These “Frankenfats” are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats. The result is a hard fat that has a long shelf life and makes processed foods especially rich. The downside is the human body is extremely sensitive to trans fats and consuming them both dramatically increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. Pressure on the food industry is leading many manufactures to declare trans fat content, but you can be sure to avoid these baddies by steering clear of anything that lists “partially hydrogentated” oils among its ingredients.