Fats, or lipids, are technically considered fats and oils. Fats are solid at room temperature, while oils are liquids. For discuss purposes, I’ll just call them fats. Most people think fats are all bad, but some can actually be good for you. So, let’s discuss.
From a structural standpoint, fats are long chains of carbon and hydrogen. A saturated fat is called “saturated” because all the carbons in the chain have the maximum number of hydrogens on each carbon. Because of that, they’re pretty straight. Since they’re straight, it’s relatively easy for these fats to stack on top of each other and eventually end up as fatty deposits on arteries and veins. This leads to coronary artery disease. Long story, short… saturated fats are the bad fats.
Saturated fats are the fats that are solid at room temperature. They can be found in meats, butter, milk fat, cheese, lard, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. The three oils are actually semi-solid at room temperature. These three are usually artificially manipulated in a lab to make them more of a solid, and then are added to many processed foods (see trans fats below). Since they are artificially changed from a chemical standpoint, it makes them bad for you as well.
Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and these are the good fats. From a structural standpoint, they are missing some hydrogens and are replaced with double bonds. This causes the long chain to kink. Something that is kinked is much more difficult to stack on top of each other and cause vascular damage. In fact, unsaturated fats help eliminate the saturated fats from the body.
There are two general types of unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats have only one kink, or one double bond between the carbons. Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, olives, avocados, and most nuts. Polyunsaturated fats have two or more kinks in them. Corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower oils, walnuts, brazil nuts and pine nuts are good sources of this type of fat. Other sources also include omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon and omega-6 fatty acids in flaxseed oil.
This leaves us with the last, and unhealthiest, of the fats – trans fats. Trans fats originally start as an unsaturated fat. Then they are chemically treated and hydrogens are partially added. When these hydrogens are added, they change the structure of the fat from something that is kinked into something that is straight, like a saturated fat. The whole purpose of this artificial hydrogenation process is to turn the liquid fat into something more solid so it can be used in processed foods and not melt. Which begs the question… why go through all this processing when you could just use butter or lard? The answer usually given was cost, as trans fats are cheaper. However, there is another reason – labeling laws. If someone looked at a label and saw butter or lard on the ingredients list, they may put it back on the shelf. Fewer people realize that any oil that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” are trans fats.
Bottom line of this – not all fats are bad. Some of them are actually good for you. Proteins and carbohydrates both provide 4 calories of energy per gram of food, but fats and oils contain 9 calories of energy per gram of food. Since fats have more than double the amount of calories from food stuffs, you should minimize your intake of foods containing saturated fats and includes fried foods, and focus on the good fats from unsaturated foods.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!