A lot of folk tend to associate “fat” with “bad” or “unhealthy”.
What they may not know is there are a lot of different fats out there. And they’re definitely not created equal.
Ready to know your MUFAs from your PUFAs? Here’s my 101 guide to fat.
The building blocks of fat.
Fats are made up of fatty acids. Fatty acids are generally categorised due to their structure the amount of double bonds present in the fatty acid chain and the length of the chain itself.
As you can see above, if the carbon chain contains no double bonds, hydrogen atoms are able to surround or “saturate” that chain.
When a double bond exists, the chain is no longer “saturated” with hydrogen. They are then classified as short, medium or long chain due to their length.
Saturated fatty acids.
Saturated fats have received a bad name over the years, however they aren’t as deserving of these as you may think.
All of the fatty acids in a saturated fat have single bonds, which provides high stability when heated. This makes butter, ghee and coconut oil perfect for cooking at high temperatures.
They were originally thought to be a causative factor in cardiovascular disease, however recent meta-analysis show that there is no significant evidence to conclude this.
In fact, there are saturated fats that are being used medicinally for their benefits!
Caprylic acid (also from coconut oil) has exhibited antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity. It has also been suggested that it may play a role in increasing ketone bodies, which may be beneficial in various conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Unsaturated fatty acids.
There are two types to know here. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are fatty acids with a single double bond, while poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have two or more double bonds.
MUFAs are generally liquid at room temperature and remain stable at high temperatures, which means they’re suitable for frying (yay!). Olive oil is an example which provides us with oleic acid.
Essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are the most popular PUFAs. Their numbers are referring to where their first double bonds occur.
EPA and DHA – found in fatty fish – are both important omega-3 fatty acids that play many roles in the human body. EPA is most commonly associated with its anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is associated with its role in the structure of the nervous system.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid in nuts and seeds. This is an important part of our immune function, but in small amounts that should be kept in balance with the omega-3 fatty acids.
For general health, there should be a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, roughly 2:1 to 4:1, omega-3 to omega-6. Even higher for Omega-3 in certain disease states.
Unfortunately, omega 6 often added in excessive amounts to packaged foods as vegetable oil, which means a lot of us are eating way too it.
Short chain fatty acids.
SCFA are organic acids produced by our intestinal bacteria via fermentation mainly of resistant starches and dietary fibre. The most well-known is butyrate.
They play numerous roles in the body, especially in the gut and the immune system. Butyrate modulates GIT sensitivity and intestinal motility (aka movement). It can also reduce inflammation in the mucosa and improve the integrity of the GI walls.
To increase your SCFA is as simple as supporting your microbiome. By increasing fibre and resistant starch intake, you can maintain adequate microbial production of SCFA.
These are the bad guys of the bunch. So bad that World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended they are completely eliminated from foods across the globe.
Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids with double bonds and hydrogen atoms on both sides of the carbon chain (most unsaturated fatty acids in nature are on the same side). Their most common food source is in hydrogenated vegetable oils in baked goods, fried and packaged foods and margarine.
Intake of trans fats has been shown to alter our ability to utilise essential fatty acids. And also tend to increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while reducing HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
This article also appeared on IQuitSugar.com