For too many years, any type of fat was demonised and banished from our diets. The assumption that fat was universally harmful. The association fat has of what slowly emerged in too larger ratios around our waistline continues to haunt us. To date, fat is seen as the pure evil around weight loss.
However, ongoing research since the 1960s has shed light on the crucial role that certain fats play in maintaining our health. Understanding the differences between fats can help the naysayers make, by far, better dietary choices and improve our overall well-being.
Contrary to the old belief (and over the last few decades, a strong lobby to keep the lesser-preferred fat sources in the supermarkets), fats are not entirely bad for us. In fact, our bodies need some fat to function optimally.
Fats serve as a major source of energy. They aid in the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals, and play a crucial role in various bodily processes, including building cell membranes, insulating nerves, and promoting proper blood clotting and muscle movement.
All fats share a similar chemical structure, comprising carbon and hydrogen atoms. The key differences lie in the length and shape of the carbon chain, as well as the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms. These seemingly minor variations result in significant differences in how fats function within our bodies.
Among the three main types of fats, trans fats are the most harmful and have no known health benefits. Trans fats are produced through a process called hydrogenation, which turns healthy oils into solid fats. This is all done to enhance shelf life and prevent rancidity. These fats are commonly found in solid margarines and processed foods, even though unofficially banned in many countries.
Eating foods rich in trans fats increases LDL cholesterol (the harmful type) in the bloodstream while reducing the beneficial HDL cholesterol. This imbalance between LDL and HDL leads to inflammation, which is linked to various chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Moreover, trans fats contribute to insulin resistance, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Even small amounts of trans fats can have a significant negative impact on health. According to a Harvard study, every 2% of daily calories from trans fats increases the risk of heart disease tenfold!
Saturated fats fall somewhere between trans fats and the healthier alternatives. They are commonly found in animal products like meat and dairy, as well as some plant-based oils. While excessive consumption of saturated fats may raise LDL cholesterol levels, they may not be as harmful as trans fats when consumed in moderation.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the healthier options, and they should be preferred in anyone’s diet. These fats can be found in foods such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish. They play a protective role in heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol and promoting the beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Additionally, they are rich in essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are crucial for brain function and overall well-being.
Just to reiterate – not all fats are created equal.
While trans fats are unquestionably harmful and should be avoided at all costs, saturated fats should be consumed in moderation. The real heroes of this fat story are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which offer numerous health benefits and should be included as part of a balanced diet.
By making informed choices about the fats we consume, we can take significant steps toward improving our long-term health.
It’s simple. If it jiggles, it is fat | Arnold Schwarzenegger