It is not easy to judge the quality and the quantity of fats in the foods we eat every day. There are fats in almost everything we eat – bread, biscuits, chocolate, vegetables and even fruit. These fats can be very healthy or they can be outright dangerous for our health.
We need a certain amount of fat every day for energy and for essential body functions – from building cell membranes to muscle movement. Fats are also required to absorb some vitamins and minerals.
The easiest way to make sure you are eating only healthy fats is to eliminate all processed foods from our diet because some of the most dangerous and unhealthy fats are hidden in processed foods, in junk food, in take away meals.
How fats are digested.
Fats are different from the other macro nutrients in the way they are absorbed in the body.
Fat is not soluble in water – it cannot be absorbed into the blood directly; instead fat has to go through the lymphatic system. But first, fat needs to be broken down into tiny particles called lipoproteins.
After we eat a meat containing fat tiny fat droplets clump together, go through the stomach undigested and as they enter the small intestine they are broken down into tiny droplets by the bile and pancreatic enzymes.
These tiny droplets gather in thoracic duct where all the lymph vessels converge.
From there the fat is pumped directly for the heart without going through the liver where it can be detoxified like all the other food particles. So, it really matters what kind of fat we eat – whether it is top quality, cold pressed virgin oil or something deep fried in trans fats.
Fats take a long time to be digested – in the stomach they rise to the top and are worked on last when they reach the small intestine.
It is important to divide fats into two groups – healthy fats and unhealthy or ‘bad’ fats.
THE GOOD – Unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is easy to spot unsaturated fats – they are liquid at room temperature and they are from plant sources – vegetable, seeds and nuts, fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel.
Monounsaturated fats are found in: olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil; in avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans; in pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in – sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and flax seed oil, cold water fish. Walnuts, flax seeds and fish are also a source of polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats or are essential in our diets because we cannot synthesize them in our bodies.
Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat. Our bodies cannot produce omega-3 fats so we have to get it with our food. Oily fish like sardines and mackerel, flax, chia seeds and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fats.
Omega-6 fats – are also essential fats which are required to support many essential functions of our bodies. However, there is some evidence that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids may lead to low-grade inflammation and various diseases associated with chronic inflammation.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many processed foods, especially those containing soybean oil. Other oils that contain high amounts of these fats are: sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oil.
It is easy to spot the best and the healthiest oils in a supermarket – they are usually sold in dark glass bottles.
What oils to avoid. Any refined vegetable oils sold in clear plastic containers.
THE BAD – Saturated fats.
There are numerous studies that link diet high in saturated fats with raised levels of cholesterol. This is the main reason to avoid saturated fats.
However it is almost impossible to eliminate them from your diet completely. The easiest way to reduce the amount of saturated fats is to minimise the amount of animal products and to eliminate ultra-processed foods form your diet.
The evidence that saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and cause heat disease is not 100 percent conclusive. In general, people who eat mostly plant baste foods tend to be much healthier than those who eat a lot of meat and animal products.
Most saturated fats are found in animal products – meat, beef, pork, fatty meats and cheese. Saturated fats are also found in some plats sources – coconut and palm oil.
If fat is hard at room temperature is most likely to be saturated fat – butter, lard, ghee.
THE UGLY – Trans fats.
Trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated oil and vegetable shortening.
In the list of ingredients trans fats are sometimes hidden as ‘mono and diglycerides of fatty acids’.
There is no safe level of consumption of tarns fats. In fact, trans fats are banned in many countries but not in the UK.
Why trans fats are bad for us? To put it simply, because these fats clog arteries, raise cholesterol levels and contribute to conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Trans fats or trans fatty acids – these are mostly used for frying or deep frying food because they don’t have to be changed very often.
Trans fats are solid at room temperature and they can be repeatedly heated without breaking down – this is why you are most likely to find them in fast food outlets, in takeaway food and in processed foods.
Trans fats are also used to extend their shelf life of processed foods – cakes, pies, doughnuts, pastries, ice cream, bread. They are found in fat spreads, some vegetable oils which are used for frying and margarines.
Here’s a list of foods that are very likely to contain trans fats: french fries, anything fried or battered, pies, margarine, shortening, cake mixes and frostings, pancakes and waffles, nondairy creamers, popcorn, cookies and cakes, frozen or creamy beverages.
How to avoid trans fats – eliminate ultra-processed food and junk food from your diet.