Get in the Know on What are Good Fats
Trans, saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fats…what normal person can keep all of these separate if you don’t deal with the jargon every day? You hear about these fats all the time and most of the time I’m betting you don’t remember which is which (no worries, I struggle to keep them straight myself). It’s even hard to remember which ones are good for you and which ones will kill you, there is one that can kill you isn’t there? Let’s break down the skinny on fats, minus the jargon!
Fat Jargon – What are good fats?
Inherently, because fats are high in calories (9 calories per gram of fat), they can lead to obesity, but we do need fats for some essential processes.
There are two types of fats in foods: unsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fats can be broken down into Trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats (omega fatty acids are a part of this but we will discuss those another time).
Unsaturated fats have at least one double carbon bond within their fatty acid chain; these bonds take the place of hydrogen atoms. On the other hand, saturated fats have no double bonds and hence are “saturated with hydrogen atoms.”
When it comes to unsaturated fats they either have one double bond (monounsaturated) or multiple double bonds (polyunsaturated fats). Because of the bonding, unsaturated fats break down quicker and are less stable than saturated fats.
The stability of these fats, cause unsaturated fats to typically be regarded as healthier than saturated fats. Their consumption can even help lower your cholesterol (Grundy 1986; Mensink & Katan 1989) and reduce your chance of heart disease (Hu et al 1997; Bucher et al 2002).
As stated earlier these guys only have one carbon double bond in their fatty acid chain. Although they are more stable than polyunsaturated fats, they are still liquid at room temperature.
Compared to the consumption of saturated fats (more of that in a minute), they have the ability to decrease your bad cholesterol (Grundy 1986)! Ever hear of the Mediterranean diet? It revolves around on olive oil which is a monounsaturated fat and this provides great protection against heart disease (Mensink & Katan 1989; Hu et al 1997).
Mensink and Katan in 1989 determined that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats was just as effective at lowering cholesterol than a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats.
Sources: Olive oil (75% monounsaturated fat), nuts, sunflower seed oil.
Polyunsaturated fats have at least two carbon double bonds in their fatty acid chain and because of that are the least stable of the fats and are liquid at room temperature.
This is one of the healthier fats for you with many studies indicating its benefits towards heart health, like a decrease in cardiovascular disease (Hu et al 1997; Bucher et al 2002).
Sources: Walnuts are one of the biggest sources (47%), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, olive oil (11%), fish, seaweed.
Although quite rare in nature, Trans fats are abundant in processed foods.
It is created by partially hydrogenating vegetables oils to a more solid state, destroying essential fatty acids and replacing them with artificial isomers (Ascherio & Willett 1997).
This is done in the food industry because it makes Trans fats quite stable causing them to rot slower than other fats (yummy…non-rotting fat).
Although they can occur in nature, the ones we consume are manufactured and because of this, their consumption can lead to an increase in coronary heart disease (Willett et al 1993) and raise cholesterol (Mensink & Katan 1990)!
Even the FDA wants to introduce an America wide ban on Trans fats because they offer no benefits to human health. They can also play a part in cancer, diabetes, and especially obesity. Get this; at least 11 countries have regulations on Trans fat consumption, with it being totally banned in Iceland!
One study even estimated that there are 30,000 premature deaths in the United States each year caused by Trans fat alone (Ascherio & Willett 1997).
Sources: Processed foods, hydrogenated vegetable oils, fast foods.
These natural food fats have with no carbon double bonding and thus are saturated with hydrogen atoms. It has long been known that there was a correlation between the amount of saturated fats/cholesterol consumed and heart disease (Artaud-Wild et al 1993).
There have been many studies to back this with the American Heart Association even calling for a decrease in protein consumption because American’s main source of protein is meat which is known to have more saturated fat (American Heart Association 2012).
On the other hand, a 2010 study indicated that it’s more about the quality of the meat consumed when it comes to saturated fat consumption; a grass-fed steak is better than a hotdog (Micha et al 2010).
Likewise, consuming coconut oil and even chocolate has been found to have positive heart health effects (Steinberg et al 2003; Nevin & Rajamohan 2004)! New literature is constantly coming out questioning the validity of the harmfulness of saturated fats. That being said, their consumption should not be excessive!
Sources: Butter, cheese, cream, meat chocolate, coconut oil.
Don’t Pig Out
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of Fats, it can be confusing. We definitely need fats in our diets because of their heart health benefits and because they are needed to digest essential nutrients.
The key is moderation.
Take the advice we got from Jonathan Bailor in a DIY interview. He recommended that each meal should include 10-15% whole food fats. These whole food fats are the heart healthy ones we need: avocados, olive oils, nuts…etc.
Cutting out all fats in your diet is unrealistic and it could be harmful. Your heart, brain, and other organs would not be getting the fats they need to function smoothly and efficiently.
Just take the Mediterranean diet for example, it supposedly one of the healthiest diets on Earth with a majority of the diet revolving around a monounsaturated fat: olive oil. A study by Kekwick and Pawan in 1956 gave a group of obese people either a diet of 90% fats, carbohydrates, or protein.
Guess which group lost the most weight? Exactly, the fat fed group.
I’m not saying you should do this – we just want to prove that you shouldn’t be scared of consuming certain fats!
So what are good fats? We need a complete, well-rounded diet and that should include fat, but for the love of God, don’t eat Trans fats!
American Heart Association (2012) High-protein diets. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2013.
Artaud-Wild SM, Connor SL, Sexton G, Connor WE (1993) Differences in coronary mortality can be explained by differences in cholesterol and saturated fat intakes kin 40 countries but no in France and Finland. A paradox. Cirrulation 88: 2771-2779.
Ascherio A, Willett WC (1997) Health effects of trans fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr 66: 10065-10105.
Bucher HC, Hengstler P, Schindler C, Meier G (2002) N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med 112: 298-304.
Grundy SM (1986) Comparison of monounsaturated fatty acids and carbohydrates for lowering plasma cholesterol. N Engl J Med 314:745-748.
Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Rimm E, Colditz GA, Rosner BA, Hennekens CH, Willett WC (1997) Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med 337: 1491-1499.
Mensink RP, Katan MB (1989) Effect of a diet enriched with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids on levels of low-density and high-density lippoprotein cholesterol in healthy women and men. N Engl J Med 321: 436-441.
Mensink RP, Katan MB (1990) Effect of dietary tans fatty acids on high-density and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. N Engl J Med 323: 439-445.
Micha R, Wallace SK, Mozaffarian D (2010) Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation 121(21):2271-2283.
Nevin KG, Rajamohan T (2004) Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Clinical Biochemistry 37: 830-835.
Steinberg FM, Bearden MM, Keen CL (2003) Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implication for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc 103; 215-223.
Willett WC, Stamper MJ, Manson JE, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Rosner BA, Hennekens CH, Sampson LA (1993) Intake of trans fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease among women. The Lancet 341: 581-585.