Explain the Different Types of Fats and Oils

Author: Dr Bennett January 12, 2017 Eat Clean, Eat Healthy Morgantown, Personal Development & Growth

You are doing great making small changes in your diet and exercise routine, working toward being a healthier you -way to go!

Now let’s take a look at types of fats and oils. Fats have gotten a bad rap in the last several years. Many women have joined the low-fat bandwagon to lose weight and feel better about themselves, some with great success and some not so much. Wherever you fall on that scale, education is the key to making healthy life choices in every area of nutrition and fats are no different. Some fats are actually good for you and promote better health, the key to choosing healthier types of dietary fat is moderation.

The truth about Fat

Your body makes fat from excess calories. Notice that didn’t say excess carbs or excess protein  or excess fruits and vegetables, it said excess calories. In the end, your body can only burn so many calories and anything extra your body very efficiently stores as fat to save for the time of famine….problem is, we don’t experience too much famine. So it just remains (helpfully) stored. Fat is not a villain but is essential to your health and supports a number of functions and some vitamins need fat to dissolve so your body can efficiently use them. But some dietary fats are potentially healthy and others potentially harm your health, here is a quick guide to know which ones you’re eating.

Types of fat

Saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are the three different types of fats. Most food contains a mixture of the three but is categorized according to what they contain the most of.

Saturated fats

Typically solid at room temperature and contribute to increasing levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and increased the risk of heart disease. Find them in fatty meat, chicken skin, processed meat, full-fat dairy products such as milk and cream, lard, palm oil, ghee, margarine, deep fried foods and baked goods.   

Polyunsaturated fats

Usually, these turn to liquid at room temperature and are believed to lower LDL cholesterol. Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of essential fatty acids – meaning we cannot make them on our own and have to obtain them from the foods that we consume.

Omega-3 is a type of polyunsaturated fat and can help reduce inflammation.   There are two critical omega-3 fatty acids, (eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA [think heart health] and docosahexaenoic or DHA [think brain health]), that the body needs. Omega-3 fatty acids come from sources of cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, cod, and cold water tuna.

 Omega-6 are numerous in modern diets. They are found in seeds and nuts like brazil nuts, pine nuts, walnuts and the oils extracted from them.  

In general, hormones derived from the two classes of essential fatty acids have opposite effects. Omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation. Omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. It is crucial that a balance must be obtained to maintain optimum health.

Monounsaturated fats

These also tend to be liquid at room temperature. Experts agree that these are the healthiest type of fats and lower LDL cholesterol while maintaining HDL cholesterol, which is a good choice for your healthy heart.

Find them in olive oil, olive-based spread, avocados and oil, grapeseed oil, and spread, safflower oil, hemp oil, cashew oil and butter, certain nuts, peanut butter and oil.

Trans fats

These are the bad guys in the fat world. They do occur naturally in small amounts in meat and meat by-products but are mostly made when food is processed to increase their shelf life. This is what will make Twinkies outlast cockroaches. Unfortunately, they show up in things a lot of people love such as biscuits, cakes, pastries and fried foods. Food manufacturers are working hard to remove trans fats from their products but you will still want to check the ingredients list for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable fats or oils. You should avoid these oils at all cost.

Changes to make

Replace saturated fat with healthier polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats and limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day. As with everything, practice moderation. Do not go overboard on healthy fats. Because all fats are high in calories, proceed with caution.

  • Avoid trans fat
  • Add cold water fish three to four times a week for omega-3 fatty acids and bake or broil instead of frying
  • Choose skinless poultry and semi-lean meat, when possible
  • Check labels to avoid processed snack foods and switch to fruits and veggies to munch on

Next part in series: Balancing Protein, Fruits, and Vegetables

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