Fat has been demonized by the diet industry. But some fats have a necessary place in all diets. Fat is the body’s chief storage form for the energy from food eaten in excess of need. Fats also provide most of the energy needed to perform much of the body’s work, especially muscular work. Padding fats protect the internal organs from shock. Insulation fats protect again temperature extremes. In foods, nutrient fats provide essential fatty acids and transport fats carry fat-soluable vitamins. Fat contributes to feelings of fullness, aids in the absorption of some phytochemicals, and helps make foods tender. The key is to find the balance between what fat the body needs and what fat will harm the body.
At the root of most forms of cardiovascular diseases is atherosclerosis which is the common form of hardening of the arteries. It usually begins with the accumulation of soft, fatty streaks along the inner walls of the arteries. These gradually enlarge and become hardened fibrous plaques that damage artery walls and make them inelastic, narrowing the passageway for blood to travel through them and increasing the risks of heart attack and stroke. A diet high in trans fats is a major contributor to the development of plaques and the progression of atherosclerosis.
The term fat actually refers to triglycerides, the major form of lipid found in the body and in foods. Triglycerides, are made of fatty acids and glycerol. Tissues all over the body can easily assemble or disassemble triglycerides as needed. Fatty acids can differ from one another in two ways, in chain length and in degree of saturation. Each species of animal, including human, makes its own characteristic kinds of triglycerides, which is governed by genetics. But, fats in the diet can affect the types of triglycerides made. As an example, animals raised for food can be fed diets containing softer or harder triglycerides to give the animal softer or harder fat, depending on consumer demand. This is why it’s so important to eat organic, naturally raised meats rather than factory farmed meats.
Types of Fat:
Saturation refers to whether or not a fatty acid chain is holding all of the hydrogen atoms it can hold. If it is filled to capacity with hydrogen it is called a saturated fatty acid. If the chain has a place where hydrogens are missing, such as in the fatty acids of plants and fish, there is a point of unsaturation, which is known as an unsaturated fatty acid. One point of unsaturation is called a monounsaturated fatty acid. Two or more points of unsaturation is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. The more unsaturated the fatty acid, the more liquid the fat is at room temperature. The more saturated the fatty acids, the firmer the fat. Keep in mind though that all fats are a combination of fatty acids. Their classification is determined by the highest percentage of saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fatty acids.
When fats become rancid they form dangerous free radicals that can lead to inflammation, heart disease, and cancer. Saturated fats are highly stable so they are less likely to go rancid when heated during cooking. So they are good for high heat cooking, such as roasting. Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable so they can be used in cooking at lower temperatures such as a quick sauté. Polyunsaturated fats are highly reactive when exposed to heat or oxygen and should never be heated. Additionally, the high heats and oxidation required to extract and process these oils can make them dangerous in the body. It is best to avoid highly industrially processed polyunsaturated oils such as corn, canola, cottonseed, and soy.
Trans fats are a type of fat molecule produced by a process called “partial hydrogenation” which rearranges the hydrogen atoms in liquid unsaturated fatty acids to produce an unnatural fat which is solid at room temperature. This is the kind of fat that manufacturers use for frying and to make many processed foods. It is less expensive for manufacturers to use partially hydrogenated vegetables oils than to use natural saturated fats. Plus, trans fatty acids allow products to have a longer shelf life which is good for the companies, but not good for our health.
Trans fatty acids are incorporated into our cell membranes, but are missing the hydrogen pairs needed for chemical reactions to occur. This results in dysfunction and chaos on the cellular level. Some of the most alarming research, dating back to 1990 shows that trans fatty acids lowers HDL cholesterol (that’s the good stuff) and raises the bad LDL cholesterol and the total serum cholesterol. It’s also shown that consuming trans fatty acids raises the blood sugar levels and causes people to weight more than people who consumed the same amount of fat that is not hydrogenated.
In short, trans fats should never be consumed. Other fats need to balanced so the body can make proper use of them.
- Trans Fats: Enemy #1 (therightnutritionplan.com)
- Vitamin F (Essential fatty acid): The vitamin that supports healthy blood cholesterol levels, nervous system, cardiovascular health and circulatory function. (blissreturned.wordpress.com)