Research about fat is confusing. Many diet books, media outlets, and blogs look at all fats to be the same. Some even go further to brand all fat as a bad dietary nutrient. In reality, not all fats are equal. There are healthy fats and unhealthy fats, and each of them has a role to play.
In this article, we shall particularly look at unhealthy fats, the problem with unhealthy fats, and how we can ensure the supply of healthy fats in our diet.
What are fats?
According to Wikipedia, “fat usually means any ester of fatty acids or a mixture of such compounds; most commonly those that occur in living beings or in food.”
Fats are macronutrient groups in the human diet, just like carbohydrates and proteins. Fats play an important role in a healthy diet. Fats have structural and metabolic functions in our bodies, including storing energy, absorption of nutrients like vitamins, waterproofing, and thermal insulation.
The human body can produce the fat that it needs from food sources like milk, butter, tallow, lard, bacon, and cooking oils except for essential fatty acids such as omega 3s.
What are the different types of fats?
To help you understand what unhealthy fats are, it is important that we first look at the types of fats and their unique effects on the body. The different types of fats include;
These mainly come from animal food sources like red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fats raise good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels thereby increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. They are solid at room temperature hence the name solid fats.
Tran’s fats exist naturally in some foods in minimal amounts. However, most of Tran’s fats are made by partial hydrogenation of oils during food processing. Tran’s fats increase total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but lower good cholesterol at the same time. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. These are also solid at room temperature hence the name solid fats.
The other type of dietary fat is primarily unsaturated fats: which include monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These according to the American Heart Association, can lower the risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fatty acids
These exist in a variety of foods and oils. Research shows that foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids improve blood cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
These are found in plant-based foods and oils. Like monounsaturated fats, eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids improves blood cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What are unhealthy fats?
From the above-discussed types of fats, it is evident that unhealthy fats are Trans fats and saturated fats. Both types of fats are solid at room temperature.
Tran’s fats and saturated fats increase total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but lower good cholesterol at the same time. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. We shall look more into the problem with these unhealthy fats in the next section.
The problem with unhealthy fats
Tran’s fats are the most problematic types of unhealthy fats. This is because they lower the good HDL cholesterol and raise bad cholesterol (LDL), which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Tran’s fats are high in calories eating foods high in Trans fats such as baked goods and fried foods can make you overweight or obese.
Research shows that Tran’s fats are highly inflammatory they lead to inflammation partly by imitating the actions of bacterial toxins called lipopolysaccharides. This contributes to chronic diseases.
Unhealthy fats may contribute to insulin resistance, leading to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Also, some studies have shown that saturated fat may affect mental function, appetite, and metabolism.
Examples of foods with unhealthy fats
You will find trans-fat in foods with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These are the worst unhealthy fats. They should therefore be cut out of your diet to maintain your health. These include;
- Fried foods such as French fries, doughnuts, and deep-fried fast foods
- Vegetable shortening
- Baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Processed snack foods like crackers and microwave popcorn
Saturated fat is not very problematic compared to Tran’s fats. All you have to do is to use this type of fat in moderation. The majority of saturated fats are animal products like high-fat meats and dairy products. Sources of saturated fat include;
- Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb
- Dark chicken meat and poultry skin
- High-fat dairy foods such as whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream
- Tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter
How much fat should I take a day?
According to the dietary reference intake (DRI), adults should get 20% to 35% of their total calories from fat. This is approximately 44 grams – 77 grams per day if your total daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories.
Because all fats are not the same, the dietary reference intake guidelines recommend eating more of the healthy fats and cut out or restrict the consumption of unhealthy fats. The recommendations of different types of fats are as below.
- 15% to 20% of monounsaturated fat
- 5% to 10% of polyunsaturated fat
- Less than 10% of saturated fat
- 0% Trans fats
- Less than 300 mg per day of cholesterol
How to ensure we have healthy fats in our diet
Below are some of the tips to get more healthy fats in your diet.
- Replacing fried chicken with grilled chicken
- Replace red meat with other protein sources like beans, nuts, poultry, and fish
- Switch from whole milk dairy to lower fat milk
- Add a variety of fish sources and plant sources like walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil which are high in healthy omega-3 fats.
- Use olive oil to cook rather than butter, stick margarine, or lard. Also, during baking, you can use canola oil.
- Eat avocado with sandwiches or salads or make guacamole. These are loaded with heart- and brain-healthy fats and are very filling.
- Add more nuts to your diet. You can use nuts instead of breadcrumbs or add them to vegetable dishes.
- Snack on olives. These are packed with healthy monounsaturated fats and low in calories.
- Make it a point to dress your own salad in olive, flaxseed, or sesame oils. Salads from food stores are often high in unhealthy fat and added sugars.
All fats are not the same. There are healthy fats (good fats) and unhealthy fats (bad fats).
Saturated fats and Trans fats are unhealthy. These increase total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, but lower good cholesterol at the same time. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
To make sure you are having healthy fats in your diet, add foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These will lower your risk of heart diseases and improve your health.
Healthier fats are important, it crucial to note that fats are fats regardless of the source they come from. They are high in calories and should be used in moderation.
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