Understanding dietary fats: the good and the bad

good fat & bad fat. Know what to eat.

Contributed by: Saumya Shatakshi, Senior Nutritionist

Fat has a prominent place in our diet. Whatever we eat during the day has some amount of fat in them which can be classified into good fats (needed by the body) and bad fats (harmful for the body).

Our unhealthy dietary habits are paving the road to several health problems. Increasing waistline, heart problems and high cholesterol have become the stark reality of today. Although fats are a major cause of various health problems not all fats are bad.

“A common notion in general public is that fats should be totally avoided in the diet. Whereas for a healthy functioning of our body, some amounts of fats are essential in our daily diet. It’s a major source of energy. It helps you absorb vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. When it comes to dietary fat, you should focus on eating healthy fats and avoiding unhealthy fats”, as informed by Saumya Shatakshi, Senior Nutritionist & Wellness Consultant,  Healthians.

To decide which food to include in your diet, one should know all about the fats. Majorly there are good fats and bad fats.

What are Good fats?

These are unsaturated fats, which are needed by the body for a healthy functioning. They are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats:

  • are shown to improve cholesterol levels
  • may help reduce risk factors of heart disease and stroke
  • may help reduce risk of diabetes
  • could promote healthy nerve activity
  • are shown to improve vitamin absorption
  • are required to maintain healthy immune system
  • promote cell development

 

Foods that contain good fats include:

  • a number of vegetable oils (canola oil, high oleic canola and sunflower oils like Omega-9 Oils, corn oil)
  • fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel
  • plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flaxseed (ground), oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean) and nuts and other seeds (walnuts, butternuts and sunflower)

Foods made up mostly of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

 

What are Bad fats?

The bad fats are considered to be trans and saturated fats which is the worst kind of fat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Bad fats:

 

Trans and saturated fats can be found in many foods like:
  • Fatty snack foods (such as potato chips, savoury crackers)
  • Junk food (such as hot chips, pizza, hamburgers)
  • Cakes and high fat muffins
  • Pastries and pies (including quiche, tarts, sausage rolls, pasties, croissants)
  • Sweet and savoury biscuits
  • Dairy foods – such as butter, cream, full fat milk and cheese
  • Meat – such as fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb and chicken (especially chicken skin), processed meats like salami

 

A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol and tip the balance towards harmful LDL cholesterol which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body.

 

What is the difference between good fats and bad fats?

The difference between “saturated” and “unsaturated” fat is in the number of double bonds in the fatty acid chain. Saturated fatty acids lack double bonds between the individual carbon atoms, while the unsaturated fatty acids have  at least one double bond in the fatty acid chain which is easily broken down in our body.
 

Which fat is good – saturated or unsaturated?

By the above detail, it is very clear to understand that unsaturated fat is good for a healthy lifestyle as it can be easily broken down into simpler and common substances. Replacing foods rich in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles.
 

Why do we need fats in our diet?

We actually need fat – can’t live without them. In fact, fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They:

  • provide essential fatty acids
  • keep our skin soft
  • deliver fat-soluble vitamins
  • are a great source of energizing fuel

It is easy to get confused between good and bad fats. It is also crucial to know how much fat we should eat, how to avoid artery-clogging trans fats and the role omega-3 fatty acids play in heart health.

 

Are saturated fats bad?

Yes, saturated fats are bad for health.

Saturated fats are fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules as they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. This chemical bond does not break easily and gets deposited in the blood capillaries leading to atherosclerosis and many other heart diseases. Eating foods that contain saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

 

How can I tell good fats from bad fats?

A common way of differentiating good to bad fats is that good fats do not solidify at room temperature like oils  and butter whereas the bad fats or the saturated fats are solid even at room temperature like margarines and dalda ghee.
 

Does dietary fat make you gain weight?

Fat is an essential part of your diet but also a cause of obesity. Eating more calories from (fats, carbohydrates, protein and alcohol) than you burn off leads to weight gain. Basically, people who get little physical activity and have diet high in calories are prone to gain weight. Dietary fat plays a role in gaining weight, be it bad or good fat. If not burnt out properly by exercising can accumulate and cause obesity. Foods like french fries, processed foods, cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, thick steaks and cheese even if made from unsaturated fats will lead to being overweight.

 

List of food containing fat that help you live healthy

The list can be too long for products with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids. But keeping the Indian food menu in mind, the below listed should be included in diet:

  • coconut
  • nuts like walnut
  • milk and cheese
  • ghee
  • yoghurt
  • olive oil
  • eggs

 

How to avoid bad fat?

We all love fast food and eating out but it can be really unhealthy in the long run. Eating minimally processed whole food is the best way to avoid trans fats. When you are buying processed foods, check the labels for the trans-fat content, check the ingredients for hydrogenated oils ( contains trans-fat), avoid buying prepackaged snacks and fast food. No matter how tempting, processed foods are not a sensible option.

We become what we eat, so eat healthy to stay healthy.

Check your cholesterol levels
 

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