What types of fat are in foods?

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Fat types

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“Fat” used to be a bad word in nutrition. However, some types of fat are very important for the body while other could be dangerous for your health. The key is to get a good balance of fats and other nutrients in your diet. Eat the healthiest kinds of fats, in the right amounts.

Fats have many important functions in your body. For example they give you energy, keep your body warm, help to build cells, protect your organs and help your body absorb vitamins from foods.

The 3 main categories of fats are the following:

1) Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles. Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.

There are two types of unsaturated fats:

a) Monounsaturated fats, which are found in high concentrations in:

  • Olive, peanut, and canola oils
  • Avocados
  • Nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts
  • Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds

b) Polyunsaturated fats, which are found in high concentrations in:

  • Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Fish

Omega-3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. The body can’t make these, so they must come from food.

  • An excellent way to get omega-3 fats is by eating fish 2-3 times a week.
  • Good plant sources of omega-3 fats include flax seeds, walnuts, and canola or soybean oil.

2) Saturated Fats

Saturated fat is considered unhealthy because it seems to raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease.

All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in beef, cheese and ice cream. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil and palm oil.

There is some controversy in the medical community over saturated fats. Some studies have found no evidence that these fats directly contribute to heart disease.

3) Trans Fats

Trans fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, a process called hydrogenation.

  • Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to become rancid. This process also converts the oil into a solid, which makes them function as margarine or shortening.
  • Partially hydrogenated oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down, making them ideal for frying fast foods.

Trans fats are worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they:

  • Raise bad LDL and lower good HDL
  • Create inflammation which has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions
  • Contribute to insulin resistance
  • Can have harmful health effects even in small amounts


Source: Harvard.edu, WebMD