Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

Fats are essential for a human body as they aid in digestion, absorption, and transportation of various essential vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K. These all are fat-soluble so they are digested, absorbed, and transported in body in conjunction with fats. Fats are also sources of essential fatty acids that are vital dietary requirement and play a significant role in preserving healthy skin and hair, protecting body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and supporting healthy cell function. They are the energy stores for the body and are broken down in the body to liberate glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol is then transformed to glucose by the liver and therefore used as a source of energy.

There are a few fatty acids that are essential nutrients and can not be produced in the body from other compounds. So these fatty acids must be consumed in small amounts. All other fats which are required by the body are non-essential since they can be produced from other compounds in the body. Therefore, learning about which fats are essential for the body and which are non-essential is the first step to plan your nutrition requirement so as to reduce health risks.

Fats can be generally classified into following types:
1. Saturated fats
2. Monounsaturated fats
3. Polyunsaturated fats
4. Trans fats

Saturated fats are common in animal products including butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, cream and fatty meats. Some tropical plants and vegetable oils including coconut, palm and palm kernel also consist of saturated fats. Removing saturated fats completely from the diet is an unhealthy decision. Saturated fats contained in coconut oil is fairly healthy and is used for cooking as it is likely to be damaged far less through heating. Coconut oil is associated with many health benefits such as handling the symptoms of type-2 diabetes, assisting in weight loss, promoting skin, bone and dental health, preventing and reversing Alzheimer’s disease and many more.

A research conducted at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia discovered that coconut oil augmented the oxidative capacity of muscles and leading to less storage of fat in muscle and improved insulin action. Coconut oil aids in losing visceral fat or deadly fat on the inside of the body. It is also known for its potential antibacterial properties and serves as a great home remedy for curing itching.

A myth that is generally associated with saturated fat is that it increases risk of heart attacks. However, the truth is, healthy saturated fats obtained from high quality modestly processed animal and vegetable sources supply a concentrated energy source in the diet and they serve as the building blocks for cell membranes and a range of hormones and hormone like substances.

Eating saturated fats as part of daily meal will decelerate absorption process so that body can stay longer without feeling hungry. Dietary fats are also required to convert carotene to vitamin A, for absorption of mineral and for several other biological processes. It is therefore significant to understand that not all saturated fats are alike and these slight differences have intense health implications. Avoiding eating of all saturated fats will likely result in harmful health conditions. There are over a dozen different types of saturated fat, but one must mainly consume three, which are stearic acid, palmitic acid and lauric acid.

Various studies and researches have already ascertained that stearic acid contained in cocoa and animal fat has no bad effects on the cholesterol levels and in fact, it gets converted into the monounsaturated fat called oleic acid in the liver. Though palmitic and lauric acid raise total cholesterol, they raise “good” cholesterol equivalent to or over "bad" cholesterol. Thus, risk of heart disease is still actually lower. Some of the sources of healthy fats are coconuts and coconut oil, avocados, butter obtained from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, ghee, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts like almonds or pecans and seeds, grass fed meats and organic pastured egg yolks.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fat types which are found largely in various fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. This is the best kind of fat to be consumed. Foods that include these fats are salmon, trout, herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.  Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have been found to assist in lowering the cholesterol level of blood when used in place of saturated and trans fats. One should try to maintain total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of calories and suggested sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are fish, nuts and vegetable oils.

To increase the shelf life of oils manufacturers may process the natural oils by hydrogenation. During process of hydrogenation, vegetable oil gets hardened leading to the formation of Trans-fatty acids (TFA). These fats can raise LDL or bad cholesterol levels in blood and lower HDL or good cholesterol levels. The saturated fat content of trans fats such as margarines and spreads is written on the package or Nutrition Facts label.

Clinical studies have revealed that TFA or hydrogenated fats have tendency to raise total blood cholesterol levels and it is believed by some scientists that they raise cholesterol levels more than saturated fats.  This may result in increased risk of heart disease. These fatty acids can also result in major clogging of arteries, type-2 diabetes and other grave health problems.

TFA's are also found in small amounts in a variety of animal products such as beef, pork, lamb and the butterfat in butter and milk. One should try to maintain trans fat intake lower than 1 percent of total calories. It is also difficult to estimate the TFA content of food items since there are no standard methods. The four most widespread sources of TFA which forms the part of usual diet are margarine; beef, pork or lamb as the main dish; cookies or biscuits; and white bread.

The partially hydrogenated fats have replaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in industries associated with the fast food, snack food, fried food, and baked goods. Partial hydrogenation raises product shelf life and lowers refrigeration requirements. Many baked foods need semi-solid fats to suspend solids at room temperature, thus partially hydrogenated oils have the correct makeup to swap animal fats like butter and lard at lower cost. They are a low-cost substitute to other semi-solid oils such as palm oil. Owing to these reasons, partially hydrogenated oils have been used in several foods.

Starting January 2006, the Food and Drug Administration has made in mandatory for food manufacturers to list trans fat content on the nutrition label. Even though changes in labeling are vital, but they are not sufficient as many fast foods have high levels of TFA and there are no labeling regulations for fast food. These foods can even be promoted as cholesterol-free and cooked in vegetable oil. One doughnut and a large order of french fries taken in a day equals to 10 grams of TFA, thus the lack of rules for labeling restaurant foods can be detrimental to the health.

Regulating Intake of Trans Fats or Hydrogenated Fats

The American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee deeply advises their healthy residents to regulate their ingestion of trans fat below 1 percent of total calories. Following are some healthy tips to regulate the intake of Trans fats or hydrogenated fats in the diet:

As an alternative to margarines and vegetable oil spreads, use organic butter preferably made from raw milk since butter is a healthy whole food.

For cooking use coconut oil as it is far better than any other cooking oil and is packed with health benefits. Olive oil also offer various health benefits but remember to use it in cold state, drizzled over salad or fish and not to cooked with. Or use naturally occurring, unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower or sunflower most often.

To fulfill the requirement of healthy fat intake by body, eat raw fats such as those present in avocados, raw dairy products and olive oil, and also take a high-quality animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil.

Opt for a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, and fat-free and low-fat dairy.

Try to maintain total fat intake between 25 and 35 percent of calories, with most fats ingested from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats sources such as fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

Buy processed foods made with unhydrogenated oil instead of partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils or saturated fat.

Avoid eating french fries, doughnuts, cookies, crackers, muffins, pies and cakes more often as these are the foods that are high in trans fat.

Put a limit to intake of the saturated fat in the diet as it would result in lowering the consumption of a lot of trans fat.

Avoid intake of commercially fried foods and baked goods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods are not only very high in fat, however that fat is also expected to be very hydrogenated, which indicates a lot of trans fat.