Fats are an essential part of our diet, just as proteins or carbohydrates in providing energy to our bodies. What makes fat, healthy or unhealthy, is the predominance of fatty acids. Many body functions require fats. Of importance to note is that any particular type of fat has its specific effects on our bodies, rendering it healthy or unhealthy. Excess calories are converted in our bodies into fat. Fats such as dietary fats are in foods we eat. Fats are also macro-nutrients that provide us with energy.
Fats are in both animal and plant products such as beef, milk, eggs, nuts, beans, and avocados.
Russian scientists in the 1930s discovered that feeding animals a high-cholesterol diet can cause atherosclerosis. A condition whereby plaque forms up in the arteries, making them narrow and increasing the risk of heart disease. It is also the most prominent cause of strokes and heart disease.
According to some studies, the risk of heart disease is hardly affected by dietary cholesterol. Still, for about a quarter of the population, high amounts of this cholesterol increase bad LDL and good HDL cholesterol.
Understanding the difference between good fats and bad fats is crucial in planning your diet. It can help you learn how to regulate intake. Certain fats affect the functioning of the heart. Some create heart problems and diseases, whereas others have benefits that can be of great significance. It is, therefore, vital to learn about fats, to prevent the chances of having heart problems.
These fats also affect aspects of our health, for example, weight. A balanced diet with adequate amounts of good fats is healthy, while excess calories from a high intake of bad fats can lead to obesity. If one eats more calories than they need, they will gain weight. Besides, if one does not burn as many calories as they consume, they will also gain weight. Poor health and bad diet are linked to excess weight and its associated problems.
Fats are also beneficial since they help vitamins get dissolved more naturally into our bloodstreams.
Fats that are considered harmful to our health are saturated fats and trans-fat. These two types of fats are found in foods that are usually at room temperatures, such as beef, pork fat, margarine, or butter. One can eat saturated fats in moderate portions, while trans-fat should be entirely avoided.
Saturated fats are acquired from animal meats and dairy products, such as, lamb, beef, poultry skin, milk, coconut oil, and butter. Too much-saturated fats increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL) and healthy cholesterol, which is unhealthy cholesterol and can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. For instance, large amounts of red meat are 16% more likely to cause death than any other saturated fat food. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is the chemical double bonds.
These make saturated fats more stable and reliable at room temperature. Saturated fats should be limited to at least 10% calorie intake a day. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should frequently replace them.
Trans-fat is short for trans-fatty acids. They are found in foods that have hydrogenated vegetable oils. These fats are the most harmful to our health. They are found in foods such as fried foods, baked foods, processed snacks, and vegetable shortening, among others. Trans-fats raise the total blood cholesterol, the levels of LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels while suppressing high-density lipoprotein levels.
Trans-fat has also been associated with inflammation in the body, which can cause harmful health effects like diabetes, strokes, and heart disease. For one to avoid trans-fats, food labels should be checked properly for the amount indicated. The law states that a portion of food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat be labeled as 0 grams. This means that it is crucial to check terms such as “partially hydrogenated” on the list of ingredients.
There are products made with hydrogenated ingredients, which means they contain trans-fats. Fully hydrogenated oils cannot be distinguished from saturated fats and are absorbed and treated the same by the body. Doctors recommend products made with non-hydrogenated ingredients.
There are laws in place to control food companies in determining the amounts of trans-fat in their products, limiting it to zero or no grams. Despite the regulations and indications on the packages, some still contain hydrogenated oils, therefore ensure always to read the list of ingredients on the packaging.
There are two kinds of unsaturated fats; monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Doctors and nutritionists consider these two types as heart-healthy fats. These fats are found in foods that tend to be in a liquid state while at room temperature. A good example is vegetable oils.
Unsaturated fats contain double chemical bonds that alter how our bodies store them and utilize them for energy. They are heart-healthy, some more than others, the length, position, and number of the double bonds influence their effects in our bodies. Polyunsaturated fats have two to six double bonds, while monounsaturated fats have one.
Monounsaturated fats are necessary for our diets because they improve our blood cholesterol level and decrease the instance of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have shown that consuming foods with monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels and can significantly reduce the danger of type 2 diabetes or heart disease. The foods that have these fats include; tree nuts such as pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, avocados, walnuts, peanut butter, and vegetable oils, mainly olive and canola oils.
Polyunsaturated fats are also referred to as essential fats, better than monounsaturated fats. This is because our bodies cannot make them, and we require them from other foods. The primary source of these fats is in plant-based foods and oils such as vegetables and seed oils. These fats can also mitigate the risk of heart disease by lessening blood cholesterol in our bodies.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the polyunsaturated fats and have proved to be beneficial for the heart. Omega-3 reduces the risks of coronary artery disease and also assist in lowering blood pressure and guards us against irregular heartbeats. It is found in fatty fish, for instance, trout, salmons, sardines, and herring, among many others.
However, this has brought up concerns considering the high intake of fish has been associated with high mercury intake, which is toxic to the body. Two to three servings of fish per week are the safest limit of consumption, depending on the type of fish. Studies show that fish with the highest levels of mercury include mackerel, marlin, bigeye tuna, and the swordfish. It is yet to be scientifically proven if the replacements for fish oil, krill oil (derived from shrimp-like crustaceans), or plant-based oil, will have similar effects as Omega-3 from fish.
Omega-3 is also found in flaxseed, canola oil and walnuts, peanut oil, corn oil, and olive oil. However, the latter contains a form of fat less active than that found in fish.
Additional to Omega-3, there are Omega-6 acids found in roasted soybeans, seeds, walnuts, tofu, among others.
There is still a lot of research on the subject of healthy and unhealthy fats. It is clear, though, that trans-fats are dangerous to our health while saturated fats are not connected to an increased risk of heart disease. Of importance to note is that saturated fats are not as healthy as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Healthy fats are crucial in our diets, but their consumption must be moderated accordingly since they are high in calories. Fats contain more calories by weight than any other product or nutrient in our foods.
To improve our quality of life and avoid heart problems, it is best to incorporate foods that have both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Most foods contain a mixture of different types of fats, each one playing its role in the body. Focus on healthier varieties instead of the unhealthy one, for instance, one should replace solid fats with oils such as olive and canola.
It is best to choose unsaturated fats and saturated fats from different seeds, vegetables, fish, nuts, and unprocessed meats. Bad fats can be avoided by limiting the intake of partially hydrogenated oils and saturated fats in processed meats.
All fats contain calories, even healthy ones. Intake can be controlled by consuming monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in place of other unhealthy types. Fats cannot be avoided entirely, but they can be controlled. If fats are avoided altogether, you run the risk of getting inadequate amounts of fat-soluble vitamins and crucial fatty acids in your body.
Therefore, instead of doing away with fats in your diet, one should incorporate a balanced diet. One should also ensure they benefit from naturally lower-fat foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Since controlling the things we consume can be a daunting task, it is essential to exercise and ensure we burn the calories we intake. It is impossible to audit the food you eat and the amounts of fats that are in it. Therefore, a healthy exercise regime can help your body burn excess fat.