A reader asks the following question:
“What is the difference between fats? Are they all bad?”
Please join this discussion and post your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s the answer . . .
There is quite a difference between fats. As I’ve said before, not all fats are created equal. I was fortunate enough over the last couple of weeks to interview, on my radio show Eat Well to Live Well with Kellie Hill, two leading experts in the world of understanding fats – Dr. Udo Erasmus and Caroline Barringer. Both did a tremendous job of explaining fats from different points of views. Yet, they both agreed on most elements of what are good fats and what are bad fats. Listen to Dr. Erasmus’ interview here and Caroline Barringer’s here. The fats most misunderstood are saturated fats, which you can read about here.
So, let’s cover the basic breakdown of fats:
The term fats actually refers to triglycerides, the major form of lipid found in the body and in foods. Triglycerides, are made of fatty acids and glycerol. Tissues all over the body can easily assemble or disassemble triglycerides as needed. Fatty acids (fats) can differ from one another in two ways, in chain length and in degree of saturation. Each species of animal, including human, makes its own characteristic kinds of triglycerides, determined by genetics. But, fats in the diet can affect the types of triglycerides made. As an example, animals raised for food can be fed diets containing softer or harder triglycerides to give the animal softer or harder fat, depending on consumer demand. This is why it’s so important to eat organic, naturally raised meats rather than factory farmed meats. We want to ingest only good fats.
Fats – Explained
Saturation refers to whether or not a fatty acid chain is holding all of the hydrogen atoms it can hold. If it is filled to capacity with hydrogen it is called a saturated fatty acid or saturated fats. If the chain has a place where hydrogens are missing, such as in the fatty acids of plants and fish, there is a point of unsaturation, which is known as an unsaturated fatty acid. One point of unsaturation is called a monounsaturated fatty acid or monounsaturated fats. Two or more points of unsaturation is a polyunsaturated fatty acid or polyunsaturated fats. The more unsaturated the fats, the more liquid the fat is at room temperature. The more saturated the fats, the firmer the fast. Keep in mind though that all fats are a combination of fatty acids. Their classification is determined by the highest percentage of saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fatty acids. So no fats are just one type of fats.
Fats and Cooking
When fats become rancid they form dangerous free radicals that can lead to inflammation, heart disease, and cancer. Rancidity occurs when fats are exposed to heat, light, or air. Saturated fats are highly stable so they are less likely to go rancid when heated during cooking. Saturated fats are good for high heat cooking, such as roasting. Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable so they can be used in cooking at lower temperatures such as a quick sauté. Polyunsaturated fats are highly reactive when exposed to heat or oxygen and should never be heated. Additionally, the high heats and oxidation required to extract and process these oils can make them dangerous in the body. It is best to avoid highly industrially processed polyunsaturated oils such as corn, canola, cottonseed, and soy.
Fats – The Devil is Trans Fats
Trans fats are a type of fat molecule produced by a process called “partial hydrogenation” which rearranges the hydrogen atoms in liquid unsaturated fats to produce an unnatural fat which is solid at room temperature. This is the kind of fat that manufacturers use for frying and to make many processed foods. It is less expensive for manufacturers to use partially hydrogenated vegetables oils than to use natural saturated fats. Plus, trans fatty acids (trans fats) allow products to have a longer shelf life which is good for the companies, but not good for our health.
Trans fats are incorporated into our cell membranes, but are missing the hydrogen pairs needed for chemical reactions to occur. This results in dysfunction and chaos on the cellular level. Some of the most alarming research, dating back to 1990 shows that trans fats lowers HDL cholesterol (that’s the good stuff) and raises the bad LDL cholesterol and the total serum cholesterol. It’s also shown that consuming trans fats raises the blood sugar levels and causes people to weight more than people who consumed the same amount of fats not hydrogenated.
In short, trans fats should never be consumed. Other fats need to balanced so the body can make proper use of them.
Fun Trans Fats Video:
Choose your fats wisely and with GREAT CARE to ensure they have been minimally and safely processed, or better yet, not processed at all; and remember- healthy fats are not the enemy and healthy fats do not make you fat! Consume a wide variety of fats from whole oils to whole foods containing healthy fats.