Once as little kid, I thought that all fats were unhealthy. Whenever I got an Oreo as a treat, my parents made sure to buy the option with 30% less fat. This led me to the following equation:
Less fat = More healthy
But now, I often wonder, is that the entire truth? Are all fats bad?
To answer the above question, we need to understand what types of fats exist.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature such as butter, coconut and palm oil. A wide variety of desserts contain this type of fat.
Trans fats are hard at room temperature and are present in highly processed foods and snacks. They have been converted from a liquid to a solid through hydrogenation to increase food products’ shelf life.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are mainly sourced from plants. Unsaturated fats come from many food sources, including seeds, nuts, avocados, seafood, and vegetable oils.
Are all fats bad?
Saturated fats increase low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol. These lipoproteins do not mix well with blood, which causes plaque buildup and narrows the path for blood to flow. By lowering the intake of foods with solid fats, namely processed, fried, and animal food products, individuals may better control their cholesterol intake.
However, not all fats are bad. Cholesterol is crucial for many metabolic processes, such as produce bile acids to aid in digestion and absorption of the food we eat. What is most crucial is to encourage eating the right foods containing high-density lipoproteins, the “good” cholesterol, which can actually help remove excess cholesterol.
While much research has been done, we still cannot deduce whether or not saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease. Yet, many experts agree that incorporating unsaturated fats in one’s diet is beneficial to one’s heart health in the long term.
Many foods contain at least one type of fat. By better understanding the different types and their effects, it makes our life less hectic by not having to eliminate all fats to maintain a healthy diet. Here are a few suggestions:
- Gradually replace saturated and trans fats with foods that contain healthy fats from seeds, legumes, and seafood
- Eat dairy, eggs and seafood in moderation; they may contain cholesterol but contain important nutrients that the body needs to function
- Read the ingredient list! Many products are advertised as less fat therefore more healthy. But they are often replaced with other ingredients whose names we cannot pronounce (yikes!) that may be equally or even less healthy.
Most misconceptions stem from generalizing all types of fats into one category. Luckily, by better informing yourself of the fat sources from the foods we eat, we can better protect our health.