Know Your Food #2 : Fats

We have become more health-conscious these days. We have started to read the ingredients, expiry date and show a keen interest in knowing about the food products. There are a few terms which we come across in the commercials and the ingredients printed on food packets. Saturated fats, unsaturated fats, poly unsaturated fats and trans fats to name a few – What are they? Which is good? Which is bad? They leave us confused and thus we are unable to choose the right food. 

If you have these questions on your mind, then this post is for you. Information given here will help you identify good and bad fats. All concepts are not covered in detail.

What is Fat?
Just like carbohydrates and proteins, fats are components of food that are an essential source of energy for humans.

What are the functions of Fat?

Fats are an essential source of energy. They are required for the metabolic functions of the body. It serves as an insulating material. Steroidal hormones are produced from certain fats. They are also essential for the absorption and digestion of fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamin A, D, E & K. These are some of the important funtions of fat.

Is it required for good health?
Yes. Fat is also essential for good health. One has to eat a balanced diet for a healthy living.

What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of our body. It is produced by our body and also found in the food we eat.

What is LDL and HDL?
Cholesterol is carried through the blood stream by carriers called lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins. They are LDL and HDL.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
LDL is referred to as the bad cholesterol. They transport cholesterol to the body cells. High levels of LDL can result in heart attack or stroke.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein)HDL is referred to as the good cholesterol. They carry the excess cholesterol from the cells to the liver for removal. Adequate levels of HDL reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.

What is the recommended daily fat intake?
It depends on your body health, amount of physical work you do everyday, age and several other factors. Consult your physician/dietitian regarding this.

What are the types of Fat?

Healthy fats are marked in green.
Unhealthy fats are marked in red.

Saturated Fats:

  • Sources : Butter, cream, margarine, shortening, cheese, full-fat dairy products, red meat, poultry, coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter etc.
  • Raises cholesterol levels and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Unsaturated Fats:

  • Sources : Oils from plants, fish etc.
  • Helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated Fats:

  • Sources : Avocado, nuts, vegetable oils like canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil etc.
  • Lowers LDL cholesterol and keeps HDL cholesterol level high. Decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Polyunsaturated Fats:

  • Sources : Vegetable oils like safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sea foods etc.
  • Helps to reduce LDL. Decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

  • Sources : soybean oil, canola oil, walnut, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, nuts, many fishes like shellfish, salmon, pacific mackerel etc.
  • Good for heart.
  • Reduces the risk of coronary artery disease.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids:

  • Sources : soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, eggs etc.
  • Lowers the risk of heart disease, reduces high blood pressure and supports bone health.

What are trans fats?

  • Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fats found naturally in small quantities in some foods. They are manufactured in the industries by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them solid at room temperature. This is mainly done to increase their shelf life. Snacks made with these hydrogenated fats turn out to be crispier.
  • Sources : Processed foods, chips, cookies, food with shortening, foods with partially hydrogenated oil.
  • Raises LDL and lowers HDL.

Simple rules to follow:

  • Do not eliminate fats from diet.
  • Eat healthy fats but not more than the required amount. Too much of unsaturated fats may also be harmful.
  • Read the ingredients of the food products before picking them up from the grocery store.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Avoid eating processed foods that are loaded with trans fats.

I hope this basic information will be useful for you!

Eat healthy and stay happy!


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