The good and bad of fat
When most of us think ‘fat’ it always seems to be thought of with a negative connotation. However, some types of fats, like almost anything else are important and necessary in the right proportions. Bad fats as we all know, can lead to obesity, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and even some forms of cancers, such as breast and bowl cancer. What most of us do not know is why.
Bad fats come in the form of saturated and trans-fats. Saturated fats are found in naturally occurring food products such as diary (for example; milk and cheese) and other animal products. They are also found in some plant derived oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats act in a negative manner as they raise blood cholesterol and also LDL (low density lipoproteins). Increasing blood cholesterol, in turn clogs arteries which further puts pressure on the heart to pump harder, in order to get enough blood each minute throughout your entire body. This pressure, if severe enough may lead to a heart attack or stroke. Trans fats are unnaturally derived fats that are produced from solidification process of vegetable oils. Trans fats are found in foods that are processed and that have no positive health aspects to them at all. Foods that contain trans fats include; cakes, biscuits, refined chocolate, pastry, potato chips and most other processed and refined foods. The effects of trans fats are the same as saturated fats, only with an increased intensity.
Although LDL is the form of cholesterol that causes the pressure on the heart, there is also HDL (high density lipoprotein) which has the opposite affect. Opposing all of these negatives are unsaturated fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats).
Unlike saturated fats, these fats are liquid at room temperature, high in HDL and low in LDL. Although it sounds contradictory, fats that are high in HDL can lead to weight loss, and are also able to lower cholesterol. There are also essential fatty acids (EFA) which are fats that are imperative to consume in diet, as we (our bodies) are unable to manufacture them ourselves. EFAs are found in food sources that contain omega 3 fatty acids as well as omega 6 fatty acids, which are both part of the polyunsaturated fats group. These can be found in fish and fish oils, flax seed oil, safflower oil and also sunflower and corn oils. Monounsaturated fats which are also beneficial and can be found in nuts, such as cashews, walnuts and almonds, and they are also found in avocados, canola oil and olive oil.
Apart from reversing the effects of ‘bad’ fats, ‘good’ fats are needed in our diets for production of energy, moving oxygen from the atmosphere into our blood, prostaglandin function, manufacturing of hemoglobin (an essential protein in blood) and cell membrane formation (required for all metabolic activity, and therefore required to keep us alive and functioning). They can also be important for brain activity such as memory and performance as well as mood and behaviour, and also insulation and conducting nerve impulses which are required for everything you do and sense internally and also externally. Without our good fats we would not be to absorb out fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) and we would not have an energy reserve for when food is scarce or out of reach.
To help you further understand the importance of fat, the following is a list of the outcomes that may occur when consuming too little fat in the diet; loss of hair, dry skin, loss of menstruation, cold intolerance, bruising, decreased growth rate, reduced resistance to infections, decreased shock protection to organs, decreased immune function and depression due to abnormal hormone functioning.
If your interested in improving your diet it is important to be aware that simply avoiding saturated fats all together and choosing foods that are labelled as low fat is unfortunately not the answer (as low fat usually means high sugar). Saturated fats are found in naturally derived food products (as mentioned previously) and so contain a multitude of other benefits, including high protein content and calcium. In order to outweigh the disadvantages, do not over consume in diary products 1-2 servings of diary is adequate for an healthy adult ( a glass of milk 250ml, 40g of cheese or a tub of 200g of yogurt is considered one serving). Furthermore, when choosing meat, go for lean fat meats such ad chicken and turkey which have far less saturated fats compared to red meat. In addition eating them skinless is even better. It is also important to read the back of food labels, to see the ratios of saturated fats, trans fats and unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats). Choose foods that have lower trans fat content if any at all and higher unsaturated fats. You should also be aware that often manufactures will not tell you if a product has trans fats. If the amount of trans fats is under certain regulatory concentrations they will include it in the amount of saturated fats present. Choose food carefully, by researching brands and reading ingredients as well as looking at fat content ratios.
I hope that in reading this you have a better understanding of why some fats should be avoided for health issues rather than weight issues, and also why other fats are imperative for normal healthy bodily functioning. Overall, don’t stress too much, food is there to be enjoyed and a small indulgence is okay once in a while.