The word “fat” has had a negative connotation and meaning for many years in our speech, but the reality is different. Our body needs healthy fats to function properly. For example, fats are needed to build cell membrane, nerves and to ensure that many vitamins, including A, D, E and K are functioning optimally.
But there are different types of fats – some are good for us and some are not. Scientific research on health risks and benefits is constantly evolving and increasing. Current data and guidelines show that we need to include healthy and fatty foods in our diet and avoid unhealthy ones.
Types of fats
Dietary fats are divided into three categories:
Unsaturated fats: These are good fats that we need to consume as much as we can as part of a diet that focuses on heart health. Here we find two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, peanut oil are foods with high concentrations of monounsaturated fats.
Fish, flaxseed, corn, soybean and sunflower seed oil contain polyunsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids – found in some types of fish, such as salmon and herring, but also in plant products, such as nuts – are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is thought to be particularly good for our hearts.
– Saturated fats: Meat is a primary source of saturated fats, with the highest percentages being found in beef, pork and whole milk. Moderate levels are found in eggs and poultry. Some vegetable oils, such as palm oil, also contain a lot of saturated fat.
Saturated fats are essential for our body – but only in small amounts. The instructions of the experts are to make up 10% of the calories we receive during the day, preferably from lean chicken and other lean products.
– Trans fats: These are the fats we crave the most, but we should not consume. Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. To make them solid, industries add extra hydrogen and thus create trans fats. The highest levels of these fats are found in animal products, margarine and baked goods.
The effects of unhealthy fats on the heart
Trans fats are the worst kind of fats for the heart, blood vessels and overall health. Consumption of trans fats:
– Increases levels of bad LDL cholesterol and decreases levels of good HDL
– Increases the risk of heart disease and stroke
– Contributes to insulin resistance and is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of artificial trans fats. This policy has almost led to the elimination of artificial trans fats in the US food supply by 2018.
But trans fats do not disappear completely from food, as they occur naturally in small quantities in meat and dairy products, as well as in some edible oils.
Eating a meal high in saturated fat – say, a big potato salad with eggs and mayonnaise – can raise your total cholesterol and change your balance by raising your LDL or bad cholesterol.
This in turn can narrow the blood vessels and cause the arteries to become blocked. Saturated fats also cause an increase in triglycerides. High triglyceride levels increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.
The effects of saturated fats on the body have been a source of controversy in recent years, with some studies questioning how harmful saturated fats are. For example, a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Nutrition concluded: “There is insufficient evidence from epidemiological studies to conclude that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of STDs, coronary heart disease or CVD ( cardiovascular disease) ».
A study published in 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that diets high in saturated fat did not increase the risk of heart disease.
But this controversial conclusion has been criticized, and American dietary guidelines still recommend limiting the amount of saturated fat consumed daily to no more than 10% of our daily calories. The American Heart Association goes even further and suggests that saturated fat should not be more than 5 to 6 percent of our daily calories.
The general guideline is that limiting saturated fats and replacing them with good fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, is what improves cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. There will always be studies on both sides of an argument, however, the current body of research shows that saturated fats are not good for human health.