The Good, The Bad and The Ugly… FATS!

Fat is a natural component of food and a good source of calories.  One gram of fat provides nine calories of energy while one gram of protein or carbohydrate offers only four.  Although all fats offer the same amount of calories, some are more harmful than others; saturated fats and trans fats in particular.

SATURATED FAT

These fats are derived from animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.  They are also found in some plant-based sources such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

This type of fat gets its name from the fact that its molecule is totally saturated with hydrogen, in other words it is holding as much hydrogen as possible.  This type of chemical structure means that it is a solid mass at room temperature; butter is a good example.

Foods high in saturated fats should be eaten in moderation, as they are associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.  Fats that are high in saturated fatty acids are commonly considered to be less healthful than fats with a lower proportion of saturated fatty acids and higher proportions of unsaturated fatty acids like olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils.

UNSATURATED FAT

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are two types of unsaturated fatty acids. They are derived from vegetables and plants.  Unsaturated fats have at least one unsaturated bond; that is at least one place that hydrogen can be added to the molecule.

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but begin to solidify at cold temperatures. This type of fat is preferable to other types of fat and can be found in olives, olive oil, nuts, peanut oil, canola oil and avocados.  Some studies have shown that these kinds of fats can actually lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and maintain HDL (good) cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature. These are found in safflower, sesame, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils. This type of fat has also been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, but too much can also lower your HDL cholesterol.

TRANS FAT

Trans Fats are actually unsaturated fats, but they can raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while also lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels.  Trans fats are used to extend the shelf life of processed foods, typically cookies, cakes, fries and donuts.  Any item that contains “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” likely contains trans fats.

Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil on a food label refers to oils that have been chemically changed to behave like saturated fat.  Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing hydrogen gas into oil at high pressure, processed at a high heat to help them last longer and keep them stable.   These oils are known as trans fats after hydrogenation.

In general, the more solid the oil is, the more hydrogenated it is. Two common examples of hydrogenated oil are Crisco and margarine. These trans fats have an increased shelf life and are spreadable, making them a very popular and convenient consumer product.  Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health.  Unlike other fats, trans fat raises both your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.   A high LDL cholesterol level in combination with a low HDL cholesterol level increases your risk of heart disease.

So read those food labels carefully and choose your fats wisely. And as a rule of thumb, liquid fats are better for you than solid fats.

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