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Are all fats bad? Healthy fats vs unhealthy fats
Have you ever wondered?Why are dietary fats harmful? Are they all bad? You get all your answers here! Dietary fats are a terribly misinterpreted nutrient. They are essential and yet mistakenly maligned. This means healthy fats rich foods have also been maligned. That’s why we decided to do a healthy fats vs unhealthy fats comparison.
The general message everywhere makes all dietary fats look bad. This is a poor and dangerous oversimplification of dietry fats. Following this advice, people have resorted to eliminating all dietary fats. In return they settle for high carb low fat diets. These diets consist of fat-free calorie-rich foods. And such diets are unhealthy. Because they increase risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
It’s not okay to label fats as an unhealthy nutrient. It should be known that are different types of dietary fats. Some foods contain healthy fats whilst others contain unhealthy ones. So not all fats can harm your health! However, information on health fats vs unhealthy fats comparison can be confusing. Therefore people follow advice without understanding both sides of the coin.
Dietary fats are not as bad as portrayed. However, some dietary fats can harm your health. A diet can have up to 40% of its energy from fat. But the fats have to be healthy. And they must come from healthy foods.
Let’s look at types of dietary fats and see!
Types of dietary fats
We have both unhealthy fats and healthy fats. Healthy fats are more beneficial to health. However, in terms of calories, all fats produce 9 calories of energy per gram. This means if you abuse healthy fats, they can also make you fat!
Trans fats are present in partially hydrogenated oils. And they exist as solids at room temperature. Trans fats are very harmful to human health. Because they behave like saturated fats. However, trans fats are man-made not natural. Except in the case of those found in meat from ruminant animals.
In the body, trans elevate levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is usually termed bad cholesterol. Trans fats also reduce levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This is the good cholesterol. They also stimulate inflammation in the body. Also, they cause artery and blood vessel damage. Trans fats are a serious threat to cardiovascular health. Consuming them greatly increases chronic disease risks. These include cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity.
These fats are mainly found in meat and dairy products. They exist as visible solids at room temperature. They also increase LDL cholesterol which harms the body. Saturated fats also reduce the concentration of beneficial HDL cholesterol in the body. Dietary saturated fats must not exceed 8% of daily energy intake. High dietary saturated fats increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases. Even though meat and milk can be healthy foods, they are labelled unhealthy due to saturated fats. However, meat can be trimmed to remove saturated fats. On the other hand, milk can be skimmed to reduce saturated fat content.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats present in healthy foods
These fats are usually found in healthy foods. And they are termed essential fats/healthy fats. Sources of these healthy fats include vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, whole grains, seafood and fish. Unsaturated fats exist as liquid at room temperature. Therefore, they are termed oils.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the form of omega 3 fatty acids are good for health. Omega 3 fatty acids are good constituencies of healthy foods.
Replacing dietary refined carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats improves health. Research shows that this reduces cardiovascular health risks.
These fats lower LDL cholesterol (bad). They also increase the body concentration of beneficial HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol improves insulin sensitivity. It also stabilises heart rhythm.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids explained
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids
Whilst omega 3 fatty acids are healthier, their consumption has decreased. However, they have a cardioprotective effect on the body. These fatty acids reduce the risks of inflammation and thrombosis. They also have beneficial effects on atherosclerosis and arrythmias.
Omega 3 fatty acids prevent atrial fibrillation. And they also improve endothelial function. The fatty acids lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels in the body. Also, they improve HDL cholesterol levels and those of other regulators.
The benefits of omega 3 fatty acids to healthy are known.
Omega 6 fatty acids are also essential in the body. However, their concentration should not be too high. The ratio of omega fatty acids must not have too much omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes as omega 3 in the body. If the concentration of the other is too high, the metabolism of the other is reduced. Nowadays consumption of vegetable oils raises the omega 6 fatty acid content. This means diets are higher in omega 6 fatty acids and low in omega 3. As a result, the metabolism of omega 3 is reduced.
Now, when omega 6 fats are metabolised in the body, they produce inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. Also, the metabolism of omega 3 fats produces non-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. So, if the diet has a high omega 6 fat content, inflammation is higher.
People are therefore advised to improve their intake of omega 3 fatty acids. And they should also cut down on omega 6 fatty acids. However, the diet should still contain a ratio of 6:1 of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. The best way to reduce the intake of omega 6 fatty acids is to cut down on the use of processed vegetable oils. And add to this by improving the consumption of healthy foods high in omega 3s.
Omega 3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid which are of marine origin. They also include plant-based alpha-linolenic acid.
It can therefore be seen that not all fats are bad. As a result, healthy fats rich health foods are recommended for a healthier diet.
Healthy fats rich foods
Healthy foods carry beneficial nutrients. Some of them are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The most common PUFAs are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Canada is the first country to recommend reduced intake of omega 6 fats. They also recommended an increase of omega 3 fat intake. Because evidence shows that overconsumption of omega 6 fatty acids may be harmful to health. Below are some healthy fats rich foods. It is only fitting that we explain healthy fats vs unhealthy fats in terms of their food sources.
Healthy foods high in omega 3 fatty acids
Flax seeds, flaxseed oil and hemp oil are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids. They are the richest sources in plant-based foods. Flax oil and hemp oil can be mixed with salad dressings. However, they have high oxidation rates, so they cannot be used for cooking. Also, hemp oil and flax oil are good sources of vitamin A. These seeds and their oils are healthy omega fat sources. Pumpkin seeds are also excellent omega 3 sources.
Canola oil, purslane and soyabean oil also contain omega 3 fatty acids. Nuts like walnuts and pine nuts are also good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids can also be found in nut and perilla oils.
Green leafy vegetables have very small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. They have the lowest healthy fat content in plants.
Also read: Health benefits of vegetables.
Marine/sea/water based sources of omega 3 fats
In shellfish, krill have a good ratio of omega fatty acids. It has a ratio of 16:13 omega 6 to omega 3. This is an excellent ratio. Other shellfish also contain omega 3 fatty acids.
Oily fish excellent natural sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Herring and salmon have some of the highest omega fatty acid content. Lake trout is also a good source. Cod liver oil and fish oil are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. And cod liver oil is also rich in vitamin A.
Whilst fish are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, some fish are not. Lean fish contain only very small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. Fried fish and fish from fast food outlets also have very small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids.
Marine algae, microalgae and green seaweeds are also excellent omega 3 fatty acid sources. They also have an excellent balance of omega 3 omega 6 fatty acid ratios. This makes them good future food prospects.
Also read: 11. Future food that may feed the world.
Dietary healthy food sources of omega 6 fatty acids.
- Soybeans and soybean oil. Soyabean oil is the richest source.
- Corn and corn oil
- Safflower and sunflower oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Avocado and avocado oil.
- Organ meats
Unhealthy fats food sources to avoid
Saturated fats food sources list
There are several dietary sources of saturated fats. These include:
- Butter, suet, lard and ghee
- Coconut oil and palm oil
- Fatty meat cuts or portions, especially pork chops and poultry skin.
- Cured meats like chorizo and salami.
- Cream, ice cream and sour cream
- Coconut milk and coconut cream
- Chocolate and chocolate spread.
An average man between 19 and 64 years must eat less than 30 grams of saturated fats per day. An average woman of the same as ge must not eat more than 20 grams of saturated fats.
So how do you reduce saturated fats intake?
You can reduce your intake of saturated fats using several ways. These include:
- Read all food labels and used this to select foods with low saturated fat content.
- Eat low fat, reduced fat or skimmed dairy products.
- It’s also better to grill, bake or steam food instead of roasting and frying.
- Measure your cooking oil so that you control the amount.
- Trim visible fat and remove skins from meat before cooking.
- Choose lean meat cuts as well as reduce overall meat intake.
- Eat meat with vegetables and soup to reduce overall intake.
- Minimise or stop using fat spreads on bread.
- It’s better to use low-fat spreads.
Also read: Why are fatty meat cuts unhealthy?
Dangers of dietary saturated fats
There is a lot of conflicting information about the harm posed by saturated fatty acids. This is because new studies have failed to prove that saturated fats are harmful. However, this is what we know so far.
Saturated fats increase heart disease risks. This is because they raise LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.
Saturated fats also cause weight gain. Too much fat adsd extra calories to the diet. These extra calories result in weight and fat gain.
Saturated fats also increase the risks of inflammation. They cause the inflammation of adipose tissue. This is a heart disease indicator. Saturated fats also worsen arthritis inflammation. They also increase the risks of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
More recent evidence suggests that the negative effects attributed to saturated fats may be overstated. But that is a post for another day!
Dietary sources of trans fats
The main sources of trans fats are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. However, they are also found in:
- Meat from ruminant animals
- Cakes, cookies and crackers.
- Animal products, margarine and fried potatoes.
- Potato chips/french fries
- Frozen pizza
- Refrigerated dough
- Fried foods
- Non-dairy coffee creamers
- Fried chicken
Trans fats are a serious problem for cardiovascular health. They cause an imbalance in blood lipid concentrations. Also, they increase LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels. They also reduce the levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol. This blood lipid imbalance promotes the development of heart diseases.
Trans fats also increase the risks of breast cancer development. A high concentration of trans fats in adipose tissue promotes breast cancer development. The risk increases with the increase in trans fats composition. Trans fats increase total blood cholesterol levels. And high blood cholesterol doubles the risk of developing breast cancer.
Trans fats also interfere with the metabolism of essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are converted to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the body. These fatty acids are needed for the nervous system and eye development. Trans fatty acids compete with essential fatty acids for the same enzymes. And long-chain fatty acids are not made. This is a classic case of healthy fats vs unhealthy fats.
Trans fats also increase the risks of colon cancer. It does this by altering immune responses, cell integrity and prostaglandin synthesis.
These unhealthy fats also increase the risks of diabetes. This is because they increase insulin resistance. They also promote the loss of insulin sensitivity.
These fats increase the risks of obesity and allergies. They increase weight gain and abdominal fats deposition. Men with abdominal fat obesity have high risks of insulin resistance. Intake of trans fats also increase risks of asthma, eczema and allergic reaction attacks.
Trans fats in pregnancy
Trans fats can cause problems during pregnancy. This is because they can transverse the placenta. As a result, they can be transferred to the foetus. High levels of dietary trabs fats levels shorten the pregnancy period. They also prevent the formation of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids needed for nervous and eye development in the foetus. As a result, trans fats can impair the growth of the foetus. High trans fats levels during pregnancy also increase risks of pregnancy hypertension (high blood pressure).
As can be seen, not all fats are bad. Healthy foods can contain good fats and bad fats. The consumer is inclined to make healthier food choices for optimum health. Even though omega 6 fatty acids can be harmful in higher dietary concentrations, they are still part of a healthy diet. A good balance is needed for omega 3: omega 6 fatty acid ratios. This ensures optimum health. Otherwise our daily lifestyle is an epic battle of healthy fats vs unhealthy fats.