22 Jan

FAT is a swear word for most people. Most people associate eating fatty foods with obesity and heart disease. Research about fat is confusing, and the internet is rife with conflicting opinions and recommendations.  Many YouTube videos, social media influencers, and weight loss consultants talk about fats as though they were all the same and that they are all bad for you. 

The main reason why people fear fat is because some fats increase the levels of bad LDL cholesterol which causes the arteries to clog and become narrower, thus increasing the risk of heart disease etc. 

So, what is the truth?

Fats are essential to human survival. A fat-less diet can cause severe health problems. The reality is that there are many different types of fats and each one has a different role in the body and different effects on your health. Even within groups of fats like saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated, specific fats still have different roles. Once you understand fats more specifically, you’ll be better equipped to make healthy dietary choices.

There are 5 types of fat

1)      Saturated

2)      Unsaturated

3)      Hydrogenerated

4)      Polyunsaturated

5)      Monosaturated

The “bad” fats

The types of fat that are commonly associated with bad effects on the human body are Saturated and Hydrogenerated fats. 

Saturated fats are often found in processed foods like cakes, fries, pizza and chips. It is however important to note that calling all Saturated fats bad, is an oversimplification. Researchers are not all agreeing on the effects of saturated fats. As an example: an avocado contains the same amount of saturated fat as three slices of bacon. Bacon increases the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Eating a half to 1.5 avocados daily actually reduces the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol according to a study of 229 adults. The thing is, it depends on your diet in totality as most people do not only consume one type of food.

Hydrogenerated fats are unsaturated fats converted chemically to Saturated fats. Regular margarine is an example. Hydrogenated fats are known to cause heart disease. They are artificially generated fats, made industrially by “hydrogenating” vegetable oil in a process that involves bombarding it with hydrogen gas. Sounds bad? It is bad. This process transforms unsaturated fats into solid or nearly solid saturated fats and trans fats. The saturated fats are known to the human body and are treated as such. However, the trans fats are foreign to the human body and contribute to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

The good fats

Unsaturated fats are heart healthy. As with saturated fats there are many types of unsaturated fats and each has different effects on the body. Unsaturated fats typically come from plant sources and are in liquid form at room temperature. They promote good cholesterol and reduce the risk of illness. There are two categories:

  • Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and canola oils, avocados and in tree nuts including almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews. A study following 840,000 adults over a span of 4–30 years found that those who consumed the most monounsaturated fats had a 12% lower risk of death from heart disease compared to those who ate the least. This benefit was strongest for oleic acid and olive oil, compared to other sources of monounsaturated fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are found primarily in vegetable and seed oils such as sunflower seed oil. In one study, researchers replaced foods high in saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat sources. They found that this reduced the risk of heart disease by 19%. This works out to a 10% reduction in heart disease risk for every 5% of their daily calories people consume from polyunsaturated instead of saturated fat.

Omega-3 fatty acids, is a specific type of polyunsaturated fat. Essential fatty acids are essential components of our cell membranes including the brain, nerve cell and muscle cells. Fatty acids also regulate inflammation within the body’s system.

Omega 3 has positive effects with arthritis, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory disorders. These fats are found in seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, herring, pilchards, anchovies, bluefin tuna and albacore tuna. Other sources include smaller amounts in soybeans, canola and flaxseed oil. One study in 45,000 adults found that a high omega-3 intake was associated with a 10% lower risk of heart disease. Not all studies have found the same benefits, and some people have concerns about eating fish because it can be a source of mercury, which is toxic if consumed in large enough amounts. 

The Takeaway

The more you know about fats, the more you’ll be able to make healthy choices. The key is to understand that every specific type of fat has unique effects on the body, and that these effects can be good or bad.

Unsaturated fats are consistently heart healthy, while industrial trans fats are consistently harmful.

Overall, choose good fats, from a variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and unprocessed meats. Avoid bad fats such as partially hydrogenated oils and saturated fats in processed meat.

Following these guidelines will help control your risk of heart disease and extend your life.

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