Although fat has earned a bad reputation, it does play an important part in a healthy diet. The key is to consider the kind of fat you are adding in your food – not all fats are bad!
There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated, which are commonly known as ‘bad’ fats and ‘good’ fats respectively. They are found in different amounts in different foods. In order to make healthy food choices, you need to understand the difference between the two kinds, their sources, and their potential impact on your body.
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature. You can get them from animal sources, including:
- whole-fat milk
- plant sources (coconut, palm, and palm kernel oil)
The reason saturated fats are often referred to as ‘bad’ fats is that they increase the level of total blood cholesterol. They also raise the level of low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Therefore, it is recommended to limit your saturated fats intake to no more than 7 percent of your daily calories.
What are unsaturated fats?
Unsaturated fats are normally liquid at room temperature and are found in plant foods, like nuts and seeds. Vegetable oils, such as soybean, olive, sunflower, peanut, and corn are examples of unsaturated fats. Contrary to saturated fats, unsaturated fats do not increase blood cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein levels.
Unsaturated fats are either monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or a combination of both.
The fatty acids that have a double bond in the fatty acid chain are monounsaturated fats. These fats are highly effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels. They increase ‘good’ cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein, thus included in the ‘good’ fats category.
What are polyunsaturated fats?
Polyunsaturated fats have more than one double bond in the fatty acid chain. The oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature but when chilled, they start to become solid.
These fats are also considered to be healthy for your heart. They help in reducing the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and thus, lower the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. They also provide certain nutrients that help in the development and maintenance of your body’s cells. The oils rich in polyunsaturated fats supply vitamin E and some vital fats, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids to your body, which your body cannot produce itself. These fatty acids are essential to your body’s functioning and therefore, you should consume them through your diet.
Saturated or polyunsaturated fats: which are better for you?
It is obvious that saturated fats can negatively affect your health. On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats can be beneficial for your health when consumed in moderation. Thus, you should eat foods that are rich in unsaturated fats and avoid saturated fats containing foods.
Now that you know which fats contribute to your health, you might want to read nutritional labels before buying any prepared food. Try to eat more unsaturated fats and lower your intake of saturated fats. For a start, you can try swapping saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats to work on your cholesterol levels and live a healthy life.