Authored by: Dr. Edmundowicz
Despite the bad press that fat may receive we all have it in our bodies, some of us more than others. As a dietary nutrient, fat is a storage unit for energy. You may be surprised but the body actually needs fat; it is part of every cell, tissue and organ, including the brain and eyes. However, not all dietary fats are created equal. Which fats and oils are friend or foe? I am going to explore this topic in a series of three posts. Today I will help you categorize and understand lipid lingo (fat speak). In future posts I will explore the types of essential and nonessential fats and what that means. Lastly, I will share more about the impact of bad fat on your health. Here’s the skinny:
The Breakdown of Fats & Oils
It’s easiest to categorize fats and oils this way:
Fats in Foods
The fat in food that we eat falls into one of the following categories:
Harmful Dietary Fat
Saturated - in scientific terms, these are fats whose carbon atoms have all the hydrogen atoms they can hold (i.e. the fat is “saturated” with hydrogen.) Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature. Animal fats and some “tropical” oils are high in saturated fat.
Trans fat – trans fat can be naturally occuring or industrially produced. Naturally occurring trans fat is found in meat and dairy foods. Industrially produced trans fat is formed from adding hydrogen atoms to unsaturated fats. This fat remains solid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life (think of something like Crisco, though more advanced practices have helped to eliminate trans fats from Crisco and many other products that previously contained them).
Trans fat includes hydrogenated fat. Hydrogenated fat in foods prolongs shelf life, makes piecrusts flaky and puddings creamy.
Healthier Dietary Fat
Monounsaturated – in scientific terms, these are fats that have one carbon-carbon double bond in the molecular structure. Monounsaturated fats come from plants and are generally liquid at room temperature, but start to solidify when refrigerated. Examples include olive, canola, avocado, and peanut oils.
Polyunsaturated – in scientific terms, these are fats that have more than one carbon-carbon bond in the molecular structure. Polyunsaturated fats come from plants and are generally liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated. Examples include safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame oils, nuts and seeds, omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). To learn more about the benefits of CLA, be sure to check out 7 Tips to Improving Body Composition.
The GNC Difference
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Take note of the examples of the fats mentioned above so the next time you are perusing the grocery store aisles you will know what fats contribute to your health goals. You are far better off choosing naturally occurring fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds, oils that require minimal processing and remain liquid at room temperature. In the next post we will dig a bit deeper into the types of polyunsaturated fats: omega 3 & 6 fatty acids. Stay tuned so you are in the know
Do you prefer to eat fish, take a fish oil supplement, or both?