Knowing how to tell the difference between good fats vs bad fats starts with understanding how a fat is processed, as it is the processing of fats that makes fats unhealthy. Fats has been one of those topics in which there has been lots of confusing and mis-information leaving people wondering if saturated fat is good or bad and what are the good fats and bad fats?
Have you ever been told to avoid fats for weight loss or that it’s healthy to follow a low fat diet or to eat margarine and vegetable oils? Well this info is outdated as healthy fats play a vital role in maintaining health and are essential in the diet but their are bad fats that should be avoided and are not beneficial to our health so let’s talk about the different types of fats and clear up some confusion.
Classification of fats and the different types of fat
Fats can be classified into 3 different categories according to its degree of saturation which refers to the ability of a fat to combine with other substances such as oxygen. Fats can be saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. All fats contain a combination of all 3 fatty acids but are classified by their highest percentage of either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fatty acids are the most stable chemically due to no double bonds in the molecule thus it is less reactive with oxygen.
Unsaturated fats such as the monounsaturated fats contains one double bond that is unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain 2 or more double bonds that are unsaturated which makes them less stable and more reactive and subject to attack by oxygen due to availability of more double bonds that are reactive with oxygen.
All the different types of fat are necessary and play vital roles in the body. A general guideline is to have 30% of your calories in the diet come from fats and of that 30% a general guideline is to have 30% from saturated fats, 10% from polyunsaturated fats and 60% from monounsaturated fats. Of course this will vary according to bioindividuality as everybody is different.
Of the 3 types of fats, saturated fats are the most stable and do not go rancid easily. Saturated fats are the best fats for cooking due to them being saturated and not reacting with oxygen, therefore they are the safest fats to use for cooking.
Saturated fats are usually solid or semisolid at room temperature and are considered non-essential as the body can make these. Healthy sources of saturated fat include animal flesh fats from pastured animals, whole raw dairy, butter from grass fed cows, ghee and cold pressed unrefined coconut oil.
Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable and do not got rancid easily. They are liquid at room temperature and are considered nonessential as the body can make these. Healthy sources of monounsaturated fats include cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and cold pressed oils from almonds, pecans, cashews and avocados or in their whole food form.
Monounsaturated oils should be stored in a dark or opaque bottle to prevent light from oxidizing the fats. These oils should only be used for cooking at low temperatures or a quick saute on low heat as they are only relatively stable and will oxidize at high temperatures.
Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable of all the fats and are very delicate oils. They are liquid at room temperature and should always be stored in a dark glass bottle in the fridge as they are easily damaged by light, heat and oxygen due to more carbon bonds being unsaturated and available to react with oxygen which causes them to go rancid. It is very important that these polyunsaturated oils are always cold pressed. Poly unsaturated fats are also the worst oils for cooking as they are easily oxidized by heat making them unhealthy.
Of the polyunsaturated fats there are two essential fatty acids which means the body cannot make these and they must be supplied by the diet. The essential fatty acids are the Omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega 6 fatty acid (linoleic acid). Both these fatty acids are used by the body to be converted into hormone like substances called prostaglandins that are anti-inflammatory and help to manage inflammation in the body. The optimal ratio and balance between these 2 oils should be 1:1 but unfortunately in the modern western world most people are consuming way too many omega 6 fatty acids and are not in balance with the omega 3 fatty acids.
Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids can be found in fish oil, cold pressed flax seed oil, wheat germ, walnut, hemp and pumpkin. Good sources of omega 6 fatty acids can be found in cold pressed sunflower oil, sesame oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, black current seed oil and evening primrose oil Providing the body with a balance of these healthy fats in appropriate ratios is essential for optimal health.
Fats have many roles in the body. They provide the body with an excellent source of energy that burns slowly for long lasting steady energy levels. A wide variety of healthy fats are used to make up every cell membrane which allows for nutrients in and waste out. They serve as a protective lining for the organs of your body and are required for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K. They also make food taste good so be sure to get healthy fats in your daily diet.
What are unhealthy fats?
Refined vegetable oils, hydrogenated fats and trans fats are the worst types of fats that should be avoided including canola oil, cottonseed oil soybean oil, partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fats along with foods fried in these oils. These fats/oils are cheap and eaten way to often in the general populations diet as they can be found in so many of the fried, processed, packaged foods that are being consumed today.
All the vegetable oils found on grocery store shelves that are in clear plastic bottles and not refrigerated are polyunsaturated oils that are very delicate and when exposed to heat and light will result in any health benefits of these oils to be lost and are actually now harmful as they have oxidized and gone rancid.
Much of the processing that refined vegetable oils go through result in them being unfit to consume. It is the processing of fats that differentiates healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
Hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats are also to be avoided as they are highly processed and are most commonly found as margarine and shortening. These bad fats are used in many baked goods and packaged foods from crackers, cookies, muffins, pastries, chips and boxed chocolates to name a few.
There are absolutely no benefits to consuming hydrogenated fats and refined vegetables and should be eliminated from the diet. Be sure to read your labels as you will find these fats and refined vegetable oils in many packaged, fried and baked foods. Remember vegetable oils are the worst oil for cooking and should not be heated or used for baking and frying as these oils are unstable and oxidize when heated which creates free radicals that damage body tissues.
For more information on fats I recommend reading The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and Know Your Fats by Mary Enig
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