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About Dietary Fats

Until a few years ago, dietary fats were talked about as an abandoned nutrient, and doctors would have constantly advised you to avoid fats to control your weight and keep lifestyle ailments like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases under check. Today, it features almost on every diet chart as an essential dietary nutrient, as some types of fat are known to control your cholesterol levels, and are hearty-friendly. Here are some key functions that fats help perform in your body:

  • Enables cell-building functions and boosts the energy levels in the body

  • Maintains bodily warmth

  • Protects your organs and ensures hormonal balance in the body

  • Aids in absorption of micronutrients such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K into the body

Types of Fats

The classification of fats can be broadly done as shown below –

  • Saturated fats

  • Unsaturated fats

  • Trans fats

While saturated and unsaturated fats are largely found in natural dietary sources of fat, trans fats are found in processed and pre-packaged foods, made through an industrial process.

Saturated fats consumed in limited amounts, and unsaturated fats are deemed as healthy or good fats, and trans fats are unhealthy fats that are known to cause lifestyle and heart-related ailments, and thus must be fully avoided.

1. Unsaturated Fats

  • Unsaturated fats are those whose chemical structure requires fewer hydrogen atoms to bind carbon atoms together, and thus comprise at least one double bond

  • Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature

  • The most common sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fish

Unsaturated fats can further be classified into two types – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

a) Monounsaturated Fats

  • Monounsaturated fats contain one unsaturated chemical bond

  • Liquid at room temperature, these fats turn into solids when refrigerated

  • Avocados, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and other nuts are rich dietary sources of monounsaturated fats

 

b) Polyunsaturated Fats

 

  • Polyunsaturated fats comprise more than one unsaturated double bonds in their chemical structure

  • They are usually in a liquid state at both room temperature and under refrigeration

  • Polyunsaturated fats are commonly present in oils such as flaxseed, soybean, corn, and sunflower oil, and walnuts, flaxseeds, salmon fish, tuna, and other fatty fish

  • Polyunsaturated fats are of two forms; Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are mainly present in fatty fish, flaxseed, nuts, and vegetable oils

  • Leafy greens, seeds, nuts, and vegetables are foods that are dense in Omega-6 fatty acids

2. Saturated Fats

  • In saturated fats, the chemical structure comprises carbon atoms that are tightly covered with hydrogen atoms.

  • Saturated fats remain in a solid state even at room temperature

  • These fats can be found in foods such as red meat, poultry skin, egg yolks, whole milk dairy products like milk, cheese, cream, butter, and palm, coconut oils.

3. Trans Fats

  • Trans fatty acids or trans fats are hydrogenated fats that are produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen and a catalyst

  • Most trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)

  • PHOs always remain in a solid state and have a higher shelf life

  • PHOs can withstand repeated heating, a reason why they are used for frying, baking, and processing snacks on a commercial scale

  • Trans fats are not just found in processed foods, but also seen in limited amounts in natural sources like red meat and dairy fats

Difference Between Healthy Fats and Unhealthy Fats

The difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats depends on the ailments associated with the consumption of each of the above-mentioned types of fat. Unsaturated fats are the healthiest fats, and trans fats are considered the unhealthiest fats. In between these two, lies the saturated fats, that are healthy when consumed in limited amounts only.

Given below is a detailed explanation of the health impact of various fatty acid types on the human body.

 

1. Unsaturated Fats (Good fats or Healthy fats)

 

  • Unsaturated fats are proven to reduce the LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in the body, by increasing the HDL or “good cholesterol” levels.

  • As per the American Heart Association (AHA), about 8-10 percent of daily calorie intake must come from polyunsaturated fats, and increasing it to 15 percent, in place of saturated fats has shown to reduce the risk of heart diseases

  • Similarly, substituting polyunsaturated fat and monosaturated fat with carbohydrates has shown to increase the protective HDL and reduce the detrimental LDL in blood lipid levels

  • Also, replacing a carbohydrate diet with one predominantly rich in monounsaturated fats has indicated low hypertension levels, and improved lipid levels in the body

 

2. Saturated Fats (Healthy fats upon limited consumption)

 

  • Most healthy foods like poultry and nuts have a small amount of saturated fat. While highly saturated fat can be harmful, cutting down on saturated fats with refined carbohydrates can even hurt the “good” HDL levels by increasing triglycerides.

  • As per the AHA, the daily saturated fat intake must be limited to not more than 7 percent of the total calories

  • Limiting saturated fats, or eating good fats in place of saturated fats not only lowers the risk of heart disease with improved good cholesterol levels but also prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes

 

3. Trans Fats (Unhealthy or Bad fats)

 

Trans fatty acids are the most unhealthy and the worst type of fats for the human body as they can do the following:

  • Can have a dangerous impact on health if consumed even in small amounts. A modest 2 percent increase of trans fat intake in the diet has shown to drastically shoot up the risk of coronary heart disease by 23 percent

  • Increase the bad LDL levels and lower the good HDL levels

  • Trigger inflammation, an immune reaction, that is associated with heart stroke, diabetes, and other chronic ailments

  • Encourage insulin resistance, paving way for diabetes

Easy Ways to Incorporate More Good Fats into Our Meals

To maintain your heart health, including good fats in generous amounts, i.e., get a large portion of your fats from unsaturated foods and a small amount of saturated fat in your meals. Most importantly, junk the trans fats from your meals. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Use Healthier Kitchen Oils

Incorporate into your daily cooking - healthier kitchen oils such as olive oil or canola oil that have anti-inflammation properties

  • Grass-fed Butter for HDL

Cook your eggs with saturated fats like natural, grass-fed butter and is known to raise good cholesterol (HDL) levels

  • Avoid Cream Processed Dressings

Shun cream-based dressings and toss your salads with oil-based dressings like virgin olive oil

  • Addition of Omega-3 Fats

Include Omega-3 fat-rich foods such as fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, avocados to lower your triglyceride levels, ease arthritis pain, or any symptoms of depression

  • Stock up on Wholesome, Full-fat Foods

Bid adieu to low-fat and fat-free products, and welcome whole, full-fat foods like eggs, full-fat yogurt into your refrigerator. These foods have a considerable impact on insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes

  • Practice Healthy Snacking

Snack on healthy fat foods like a slice of cheese, a handful of nuts, and a piece of hard-boiled eggs to curb your hunger pangs

Conclusion

Eating trans fats has only harmed human health, kicking off lifestyle diseases not just in adults, but even in children across all age groups. Only a right combination of unsaturated and saturated fat, along with a variety of whole grains, legumes, leafy veggies, fruits, and lean protein like skinless poultry is key to crafting a nutrient-dense, balanced diet that can ensure a healthy lifestyle and BMR. However, it is always wise to prepare for any uninvited health complications, and a health insurance policy can be your saviour for tackling such health emergencies.

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FAQs on Types of Fats

  • ✔️What are the different types of fat?

    There are three major fatty acid types – unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. Unsaturated fats are further classified into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids are two forms of polyunsaturated fats.

  • ✔️What are saturated and unsaturated fats?

    Saturated fats, mostly solid fats, do not have a double bond in their chemical structure, and unsaturated fats, largely liquid fats, have at least one double bond in their chemical structure.

  • ✔️What are trans fats?

    Trans fats, also termed hydrogenated fats, are industrially processed fats available in most fried, baked, and fast foods.

  • ✔️Which types of fat are healthy?

    Unsaturated fats and a limited amount of saturated fats are considered to be healthy or good fats and must be part of the daily diet. Trans fats, on the other hand, are the worst type of fats.

  • ✔️What are the harmful health effects of trans fats?

    Trans fats increase the bad cholesterol levels in the body and trigger inflammation associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.