Fat—the three-letter word that’s misunderstood by most and often eludes to weight gain. There's light at the end of the tunnel with this stereotyped macronutrient—we need fat, the “good” and the “bad.” For without it, our bodies would not be able to function because it’s a major source of energy. It’s needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
When it comes to long-term health the “good” fat outweighs the bad; these fats are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. As for the bad entail trans fat, which is made with processed foods. With the good and bad, there’s also an in between and that fat is saturated fat.
You’ve been told time and time again to avoid processed foods at all cost since they contain trans fat—a type of fat that is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that turns healthy oils into solids to prevent them from going bad. For example, when vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen and a metal catalyst like palladium, the hydrogen atoms become added to the carbon chain—making oil solid. Therefore, when you go to read a food label, look out for “partially hydrogenated oil”—these are trans fat.
Eating processed foods that contain trans fat will not only pack on the pounds but also increase cholesterol levels and create inflammation throughout the body. Ultimately this can all put you at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more. A study coming out of the Harvard School of Public Health found, “for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.” Simply, this fat has no health benefits.
The Middle Child
Solid at room temperature, saturated fats are almost in main food staples like red meat, whole milk, cheese, and coconut oil. Saturated refers to the amount of hydrogen atoms in each carbon atom. These carbon atoms become saturated hydrogen atoms—giving you saturated fat. Consuming too much of this fat can raise cholesterol levels and put a person at risk for added weight gain. These are all reasons why it's recommended to keep daily consumption of saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.
While saturated fat can cause some damage, it can also improve our health. For starters, saturated fat is needed for calcium to be efficiently added to our bones and it also helps to protect the liver from alcohol and medications. And interestingly enough, our brains are mostly fat and cholesterol. Therefore, a diet that's too low in saturated fats could impair brain function. Lastly, saturated fats are needed to boost our immune system because they aid white blood cells in recognizing foreign invaders.
“Good” fats are found in vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Liquid at room temperature, “good” fat is split into two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fat encompasses olive oils and have a single carbon-carbon double bond, which allow for it to have fewer hydrogen atoms. Good sources of this type of fat are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and avocados. The Mediterranean diet has been seen to have high levels of this fat, and it’s a reason why it’s considered one of the healthiest diets.
Polyunsaturated fat covers corn oil; sunflower oil and safflower oil and they are considered essential fats, meaning that they are required for normal body functions. This type of fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain, giving you omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Each type can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, keep joints moving and reduce overall inflammation.