Being Healthy Should Be Easy
The concept of fat in the food we eat is one of the most misunderstood topics in the health genre. Fat has been seen as the enemy of dieters for decades. Many people would look at the total fat in products before adding to their shopping trolleys, therefore oily fish and avocados amongst others were off limit. It is only in the last few years that this concept is being re-assessed and understood, as a result a lot of ‘high fat’ products are coming back into fashion.
What are the Types of Fats?
Key to understanding fat is actually having an understanding of the two different types of fats.
In scientific terms unsaturated fats have more than one double bond between carbon atoms. These fats are generally liquid at room temperature and tend to come from vegetable sources as opposed to animal sources. Unsurprisingly therefore they are typically found in oils, such as olive and sunflower, however also oily fish such as salmon.
Unsaturated fats are prone to becoming rancid relatively quickly versus saturated fats and thus are less common where there is a need to extend shelf life of a product.
Usually have 12-24 carbon atoms and no double bonds. In its pure form it is solid at room temperature. It is typically found in cheese, butter, animal fat, biscuits and chocolate.
What are the Impacts on Health of these Two?
First things first, fat in some form is essential for the body so we should certainly not be consuming a diet with zero fat. It is the balance of the types of fat you consume which is important.
“Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the cholesterol in your blood” Source: NHS
Is this a bad thing? Cholesterol is the substance found in all cells in our bodies and thus essential. However, to add to the confusion there are two types of cholesterol! These are Low Density Cholesterol (LDL) and High Density Cholesterol (HDL). These will be covered in a later blog.
Generally speaking cholesterol is known to increase the risk of both heart attacks and strokes.
Current thinking is that unsaturated fats consumed in the right balance may have positive health effects. They do not appear to clog up the arteries and they may work to reduce the total level of cholesterol in the blood, thus countering the damage done by the saturated fats above.
However, unsaturated fats may be converted to trans fats through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fats rarely occur naturally and hence occur in processed foods. Simplistically the motive of creating trans fats is to extend the shelf life of the unsaturated fats (as discussed above). They also can be produced at a much lower cost that saturated fats. However…
“Trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health…here is a positive linear trend between trans fatty acid intake and LDL cholesterol concentration, and therefore increased risk of CHD(Heart Disease)” Source: Food Nutrition Board
So how should this impact my diet?
This blog is a very limited introduction to fats and there are some interesting areas which I will cover later, particularly Omega 3 vs Omega 6 balance. However some simple conclusions can be drawn.
The message is reduce your saturated fat levels to a minimum and replace with unsaturated fats (not trans fats), as a part of a balanced diet. Practical tips would be to swap meat for oily fish and your milk chocolate for dark chocolate, at least some of the time.
Natural foods again are coming up trumps again, if you want to avoid trans fats then cut out processed foods and make your dinners from fresh natural ingredients.