The Different Types of Fats, and Their Effects on Our Health...
The Good and the Bad Fats...
Fats or lipids are nutrients that are needed to provide and store energy in the body.
In spite of all the negative comments we read or hear about fats, not all fats are bad for your health; there are also ‘good’ fats, such as those we can get from certain types of fish, fruits and seeds, for example, which are very important and good for our health.
Fats also act as insulators (protecting various organs of our body) and are needed to transport and store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K in our body. For this reason, it is important to always include a certain amount of fat in our diet.
The “Bad” Fats...
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. These fats are usually found in animal products such as meat, pork lard, dairy products (milk, cream and cheese) as well as cold cuts (ham, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, and salami) and many more.
Animal products, including some types of seafood, such as shrimp also contain a chemical compound known as “cholesterol”. Cholesterol is a substance which is necessary to produce certain chemical compounds in our body, such as some important hormones. Cholesterol is also an important part of the membrane surrounding the tiny cells of our body.
There are different types of cholesterol produced in our body: “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”...
The consumption of diets high in fat including large amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol can lead to abnormal levels of good and bad cholesterol in the blood. “Bad cholesterol” is also known as “low density lipoprotein” or LDL, and can be harmful to our heart and circulatory system, because over time, this type of cholesterol can build up inside our arteries and block the flow of blood, causing heart attacks and strokes, due to lack of normal circulation.
On the other hand, “good cholesterol”, also known as “high density lipoprotein” or HDL is necessary for the normal functioning of our body.
It is important to maintain normal levels of the bad cholesterol. This can be achieved by reducing the intake of foods rich in saturated fats found in animal products such as pork lard, butter, cream, processed cheeses, eggs, and certain types of seafood, such as shrimp.
Keeping normal levels of bad cholesterol or LDL is especially important for people who suffer from chronic or degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, gout, and for people with high blood pressure.
Some vegetable products such as coconut oil and palm oil contain saturated fats, but no cholesterol. Because they contain saturated fats, these products should not be consumed on a regular basis.
What are “Trans Fats” and How are They Formed?
Fats in their original form have a definite chemical structure known as “cis”. The “trans” form makes fats unhealthy, increasing one’s risk for heart disease by raising levels of "bad" or “low density lipoprotein” (LDL) cholesterol and lowering levels of "good" or “high density lipoprotein” (HDL) cholesterol.
Trans fats are produced in manufacturing processes in which hydrogen is added to make vegetable oils more stable. Trans fats are found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and fried foods.
Fried Foods are Not Healthy !
Since fats increase the taste of certain foods, some people usually fry their foods, using pork lard, shortening, margarine or vegetable oils.
The problem and risk of frying foods is that intense heat affects and modifies the quality of oils and can make them become unhealthy for our body.
When oils are heated, their chemical structure is changed, making them more difficult to digest and also encouraging the formation of unhealthy chemicals known as “ free- radicals”, which in turn, irritate our digestive system and can lead to various health problems if fried foods are eaten in large quantities and on a regular basis.
The “Good” Fats...
The “good fats” include the following:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega -3 fatty acids include alfa- linolenic acid (ALA), which is contained in certain plants or plant products, such as flaxseed, soybean, and walnuts. The other omega 3 fatty acids are eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), which are found in some fatty fish such as fresh tuna, salmon, and sardines, among others.
Some studies have found that Asian women who engage in frequent physical activity and eat a wide variety of fish and vegetables including fermented soybean products such as “tofu” and “miso”, usually have a lower incidence of cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other ailments compared to some Western women who rarely eat fish, do less exercise, and eat less soybean products.
Eating fresh fish two or three times a week can be healthy, since this increases the amount of omega-3 fats in our diet. Omega -3 fatty acids are currently being studied for the treatment of depression.
Omega-9 Fatty Acids
Omega-9 fatty acids are also “good” fats which are found in almonds, olive oil, and avocados. These plant products contain similar types of fats that are good for our health if eaten in moderation.
* Health Tip: if you can replace the combination of white bread and butter or margarine with whole wheat bread and avocado, you can have a more nutritious and healthy snack.