What you need to know about good fats and bad fats

Publish DateOct 21, 2021

Fats (also called lipids) are a class of organic substances that do not dissolve in water. They are made of chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms filling the available bonds.

Not all fats are the same. While good fats are necessary for the healthy functioning of your nervous system, brain, hormones, immune system, and metabolism, bad fats undermine your health and are associated with heart disease and cancer.

To learn more about why you need to eat fat for optimal health, read this blog.

Here are the fats you should know about, including the good fats to add to your diet and the bad fats to avoid:

Saturated fats

These are found predominantly in animal fats and tropical oils such as coconut oils.

Saturated fats are structured so that all available carbon bonds are occupied by a carbon atom, making them highly stable (the compound is straight in shape), giving them the property of being solid or semi-solid at room temperature. This unique composition means that they are less likely to go rancid when they are heated during cooking. They are also less likely to form dangerous free radicals associated with heart disease and cancer.

Monounsaturated fats

The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in food is oleic acid — the main component of olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, and  various nuts  .

Monosaturated fatty acids are structured with one double bond (composed of two carbon atoms double-bonded to each other). This bond causes the molecule to bend slightly so they don’t pack together as easily as saturated fats. As a result, they tend to be liquid at room temperature and solid when refrigerated.

At the same time, they are relatively stable. Similar to saturated fats, they do not go rancid easily and can be heated when cooking.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts.

Polyunsaturated fats 

Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds. The most common types found in food are linoleic acid with two double bonds (known as omega-6) and linolenic acid with three double bonds (known as omega-3). These are known as “essential” fatty acids, as your body cannot produce them. Polyunsaturated fats have bends at the position of the double bonds and therefore do not pack together easily. As a result, they remain liquid even when refrigerated.

Today, people who follow a Western diet are overeating  omega-6 with little intake of omega-3. To restore a healthy ratio between the two, you should focus on increasing your omega-3 intake.

Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, and walnuts.

Polyunsaturated fats have unpaired electrons at the site of the double bonds, making them highly reactive. When these polyunsaturated fats are exposed to heat or oxygen, they form free radicals. These free radicals (and not the saturated fats themselves) are what initiate cancer and heart disease. Therefore, industrially processed partially hydrogenated polyunsaturated oils such as corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils should be strictly avoided.

Trans fat

Trans fats should be avoided; according to a study from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, there is no safe level of trans fats in the diet. Manufactured foods, such as baked goods, margarine, chips, fast food fries, and a range of other processed foods contain rearranged fatty acids called trans fats, produced artificially by bombarding polyunsaturated oils with hydrogen. This process is called partial hydrogenation, which make the normally twisted polyunsaturated fatty acids straighten out and behave like saturated fats in foods. As a result, these oils gain a longer shelf life. They pack together easily and are unnaturally solid at room temperature and can be used as spreads and shortenings.

Trans fats compromise bodily functions, including hormone synthesis, immune function, insulin metabolism, and tissue repair. They also promote weight gain.

These bad trans fats to be avoided can be found in processed soy, canola, corn, and cottonseed oil. 

Adding more good fats and eliminating bad fats from your diet will support your bodily functions so you can look and feel your best.


Author: Jesamine Dyus

Images source: Freepik

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