What Is Fat: Different Types of Fat, Benefits & Side Effects
What is Fat?
Fat is an oily substance which occurs naturally in the body. It’s usually deposited as a layer around certain body organs or under the skin. Fat is vital for the functioning of the body but a high-fat content could result in adverse side effects such as weight gain and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease etc. overall, its recommended by doctors that you should consume fat daily but in moderate amounts. This is because this substance has many beneficial functions in the body.
Functions of Fat
Although it is known that carbohydrates are the main sources of energy, fat act as backup sources of energy when there’s a limited amount of carbs in the body. Fat promotes temperature regulation and insulation by keeping the body warm. Fat cells which are stored in the adipose tissue help to insulate the body. The adipose tissue supports the core and normal temperature which is required by the body in order to function. They also promote the absorption of vitamins. Vitamins K, E, D, and A rely on fat in order for them to be absorbed by the body and they are usually termed as fat-soluble vitamins. Note that these vitamins are essential for the general development of the body. They help to improve vision, strengthening the bone, increase calcium absorption, and neutralizing free radicals among others.
In addition to that, Fat form the necessary compounds which are required to build the body cells. They are required for structural development and functions. They regulate what goes in and outside the cells, and help different cells to communicate with each other. Furthermore, fat protect certain organs by cushioning them. They also produce hormones which are required by the body in order for it to fully function.
Types of Fat
There are three main types of fat, saturated, unsaturated and Trans fat. Unsaturated fat is usually considered the best and healthy alternative to Trans and saturated fat. Saturated and Trans fat is labeled as the “bad” fat in your diet. The difference between saturated and unsaturated fat lie in their chemical structures.
1. Saturated Fat
Saturated fat contains chains of fatty acids with single bonds. This type of fat is usually considered as the “bad” fat. It increases the level of bad cholesterol in the body. Note that high amounts of bad cholesterol can lead to a high risk of certain diseases. Saturated fat is found in foods such as:
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
- Dairy products such as whole milk, ice cream, cheese.
- Red meat such as pork, lamb, and beef.
- Poultry meat.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the benefits and effects of saturated fat. Some research studies have established that there is no direct link between this type of fat and heart disease. Other studies also indicate that saturated fat found in whole dairy products such as milk are healthy and safe for consumption. Generally, it’s recommended by the American Heart Association that a person should consume less than five percent of their daily calories from this type of fat.
Risks of Saturated Fat
Overall, saturated fat is regarded as unhealthy and harmful. Filling your meals with saturated fat could lead to adverse health effects which include increasing the blood cholesterol levels. Consequentially, people with high blood cholesterol are usually at risk of developing stroke, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure among others.
2. Trans Fat
These are basically saturated fatty acids. Trans fat occurs in small amounts in various types of food. They are usually considered as the bad fat because they help to increase the level of the bad cholesterol in the body. Besides that, they may also increase the number of triglycerides and reduce the level of good cholesterol. Small amounts of these fats can be found naturally in animal-based products such as milk and meat. However, some types of Trans fat may be manufactured during an industrial process.
Artificially, this type of fat is made when hydrogen is added to a liquid vegetable oil at room temperature in order to make them solid. But why are liquid vegetable oils converted to Trans fat? Well, this is because Trans fat can last for long periods of time. In addition to that, they also help to enhance the texture of food and improve the taste. The common sources of this fat include:
• Fried foods such as French fries.
• Microwaved popcorns.
• Baked foods such as biscuits, donuts, pies, crackers, cakes, and many others.
• Frozen pizza
• Tub or stick margarine.
Risks Associated with Trans Fat
Although they help to enhance the taste of food, these fats are not good for consumption. Trans fat is unhealthy and they may cause increased risks of diseases such as diabetes type 2, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. They help to increase the production of bad cholesterol which is harmful to the body and they have high inflammatory effects. Trans fat may also lead to chronic diseases such as insulin resistance. If you want to maintain a good health, then it’s important that you steer clear out of this type of fat. Some places in the world have banned the use of Trans fat e.g. New York City.
3. Unsaturated Fat
They are considered an important part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. They are the most recommended type of fat by nutritionists as they help to improve organ function and nourish different parts of the body including the skin. Unsaturated fat is mostly derived from fish, nuts, and vegetables and they exist in liquid form at room temperature.
Types of Unsaturated Fat
Unsaturated fat is found in two forms i.e. the monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat contains a single unsaturated chemical bond. Note that unsaturated fat that contains monounsaturated oils are usually liquid when they are at room temperature and solid when they are refrigerated. Monounsaturated fat is found in foods like almonds, olive, avocados, pecans, peanut oils, hazelnuts and others.
Polyunsaturated fat contains numerous unsaturated chemical bonds. Note that Polyunsaturated oils usually stay liquid form in the refrigerator and at room temperature. Polyunsaturated fat is found in foods like flaxseeds, fatty fish, sunflower oil, safflower oil, pumpkin seeds, tofu, sesame seeds, soybean, tuna, salmon, walnuts, corn, and others. Polyunsaturated fat can be broken down further into two categories, Omega -6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in three types i.e. Alpha-linolenic acid which is derived from plant-based sources such as vegetables and nuts. Docosahexaenoic acid is mainly found in fish while Eicosapentaenoic acid is also found in fish. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in high amounts in foods such as seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, and leafy greens. It is recommended by the American Heart Association that your daily calories should contain about 5-10 percent of the omega fatty acids.
Benefits of Unsaturated fat
Studies have shown that the high content of omega-3 and -6 fat which are found in fish help to rescue the risk of heart disease. Apart from that, this type of fat also helps to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other types of dementia. They contain anti-inflammatory health benefits which help to soothe and alleviate symptoms of certain diseases. Unsaturated fat is rich in minerals and vitamins which help to increase mental alertness and focus. Apart from those, they also help to stabilize the heart rhythms.
How You Can Eat More Unsaturated Fat and Less Saturated Fat
Unsaturated fat is the best and the recommended alternative for saturated fat. You can increase your intake of unsaturated fat by snacking on nuts which are unsalted. Unsalted nuts are the best “go to” snack which are great replacements for high saturated snacks such as pastries. A combination of dried fruits, nuts and seeds contain more fiber and healthy fat. Avoid taking roasted nuts as they contain added oils which may interfere with the content of their calories.
Cook using vegetable oils such as olive oil or sunflower oil. Vegetable oils are the best alternatives which you can use to increase your daily uptake of unsaturated fat. They are great alternatives for cooking oils such as coconut oil and butter which contain high amounts of saturated fat. Also look for plant-based alternatives for dairy products such as milk, cream, butter and cheese which contain high levels of saturated fat.
Overall, you can easily reduce the total fat intake by replacing the fattier and saucier sauces with lemon juice, mustard, and vinegar. Your dairy products should be low-fat or skim. Furthermore, it is important for you to limit yourself and avoid consuming foods which have high-fat, for instance, fried foods, processed foods, desserts, and sweets.
The Bottom Line
Fat is required by the body in order for it to function. However, you need to be keen on the type of fat that you are consuming. To keep your body healthy, ensure that you only take unsaturated fat. In addition to that, the bulk of your nutrition should be from healthy sources of foods such as whole grains, skinless poultry, lean protein like fish, vegetables, and fruits.