What is Saturated, Unsaturated and Trans Fat?
Fats are one of the primary fuel source for our body and contain twice the calories as that of carbohydrates and protein (1 gram of fat has 9 calories whereas 1 gram of carbohydrate and protein has 4 calories only). However, for the last few decades, fats are considered to be dangerous for health and hence low fat and fat-free products are being promoted widely.
However, the truth is that not all fats are bad for us. There are certain types of fats which should be avoided and certain other fats which can be consumed for a healthy living. The intend of this post is to highlight different types of fats and also to help you choose the food products wisely based on their fat content.
Types of Fats:
Fats are broadly classified in to three categories;
- Saturated Fats (Widely considered to be bad. But still under debate)
- Unsaturated Fats (Absolutely good for health)
- Trans Fats (Totally bad for health)
What Are Saturated Fats?
Imagine a stack of chains bonded together. That is how saturated fats behave like. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and hence often called as “Solid Fat”. The name saturated fat comes from organic chemistry as each carbon atom in its molecular structure is saturated with hydrogen atom. The figure below shows the typical molecular structure of a saturated fat. You can see that in saturated fat, the carbon atoms are linked together by a single bond (-C-C-).
Is Saturated Fat good for Health?
Well, this is a debatable question. Many organizations like American heart association believe that saturated fats can stack well together and hence can cause plaques in arteries which leads to coronary heart diseases. While some other experts debate that saturated fats can help for weight loss. Hence it is very difficult to come to a conclusion on this topic.
However, to be on the safer side, it is recommended to limit the saturated fat consumption below the daily recommended values (that is less than 20 grams for 2000 calorie diet). Practically, it is not possible to avoid saturated fat as most of the food items have at least a small portion of saturated fat. Hence watch out for the nutrition label carefully and choose items with less saturated fat.
Which Products have High Saturated Fat?
Animal products such as fatty beef, pork & lamb meats and dairy products like milk, butter, ghee, cheese and yogurt are primary source of saturated fats. Coconut is an exceptional item to come from a plant source and yet have high saturated fat.
Below are some of the food items along with its saturated fat content.
What Are Unsaturated Fats?
Imagine links in a chain that can bend, move and flow. Unsaturated fat is exactly similar. These Fats are generally liquid at room temperature and called “liquid fat”. The name unsaturated fat indicates that not all the carbon items in the fat chain are saturated with hydrogen atoms. In other words, there are fewer hydrogen atoms in the chain compared to carbon atoms. The figure below shows the typical molecular structure of unsaturated fat. You can see that in unsaturated fat, few carbon atoms are linked together by a double bond (-C=C-).
Types of Unsaturated Fat:
Mono Unsaturated Fat:
It is a form of unsaturated fat where only one double bond is present in the hydro carbon chain.
Poly Unsaturated Fat:
It is also a form of unsaturated fat where more than one double bond is present in hydrocarbon chain. In other words, more than one carbon atoms are not saturated with hydrogen atoms.
Is Unsaturated Fat good for Health?
Yes. All unsaturated fats (Mono, poly) are absolutely good for health.
- As mentioned earlier, these fats cannot stack well together and hence cannot form plaques in the arteries.
- Also unsaturated Fats can help increasing the good (HDL) cholesterol while decreasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol.
- Omega 3 fats, a type of poly unsaturated fat, help reduce inflammation, prevent arthritis and cancer as well.
- Omega 6 fats, a type of poly unsaturated fat, helps hair growth, bone health and improve metabolism.
So it is recommended to replace the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats as much as possible.
Which Products have High Unsaturated Fat?
Plant sources such as avocados, olives, nuts and seeds are rich in unsaturated fats. Fish is also a rich source of unsaturated fats. Coconut oil is an exception which is high in saturated fat and yet takes the liquid form.
Below are some of the food items along with its unsaturated fat content.
What are Trans Fats?
Trans Fats behave similar to saturated fats but the side effects are even worse than the saturated fats. Trans Fats are achieved by a process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen atoms are artificially added to the fat chain to make them solid. Figure below shows the typical molecular structure of trans-fat.
Is Trans Fat good for Health?
Not at all. As described earlier, these fats can stack better than any other fats and can form plaques in the arteries. As per NCBI , a 2% absolute increase in energy intake from trans fat has been associated with a 23% increase in cardiovascular risk. So it is recommended to completely eliminate trans fat from your diet.
Which Products have High Trans Fat?
Most of the processed foods and baked items like cookies, cakes, crackers, icings and microwave popcorn, deep fried items are rich in trans fat.
Trans Fat Warning:
- Take caution to read food labels in processed and packaged foods. If you find “Partially Hydrogenated” anywhere in the food label, ignore these products. These products will definitely have trans fat in them.
- Most of the cookies, frozen desserts, cakes, pies and frozen foods show 0 gram trans fat in the food label. However, the fact is that, FDA wants the Trans Fat to be reported in the food label only if the Trans fat is more than 0.5 grams per serving. If the trans fat is below 0.5 grams, then food labels can show 0 grams trans fat. Hence be aware that most cookies and baked items will have trans fat between 0 to 0.5 grams per serving. So if you eat more at a time, then you are at risk of consuming more trans fat.
- Never deep fry any item with vegetable oils. This is because, when you heat the vegetable oil, you are initiating the hydrogenation process and hence creating trans fat artificially.
- In general, it is always better to use oils without heating. Also choose cold pressed oils like olive oils which will not have trans fats. The modern oil processing heats the oils and hence chances of developing trans fat are more.
Below are some of the food items along with its trans fat content.
No doubt that fat is essential for healthy living as our body cannot generate certain types of fatty acids like the omega 3 and omega 6. However, choosing the right fat is a crucial step for healthy lifestyle. To conclude, completely eliminate trans fat from your diet, limit the saturated fat well below the daily recommended values and consume unsaturated Fats in moderation.
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