Analyzing the Different Kinds of Fat in Foods

When it comes to diets and eating right, there are many factors to consider. Avoiding too many carbohydrates, restricting caloric intake and watching out for too many sugars while still eating a balanced diet are difficult enough. Trying to figure out the different types of fat in foods can make eating healthy seem impossible. Some fats are considered healthy, such as those found in peanuts and salmon. Other fats should be extremely limited or avoided, such as the fats in chicken skin and butter. Even fats that are good for the body should not be eaten in excess. However, the body cannot work properly without consuming a certain amount of fat. Not only does fat keep the body healthy, it is also a significant source of energy. Understanding the different types of fats, their benefits and the dangers they pose can help with making healthier food choices.

The Good and the Bad

Before getting to know the different types of fats and what foods contain them, it is important to understand what defines good or bad fats. Any fats that pose a danger to the heart and blood vessels in the body is considered an unhealthy or bad fat. Unhealthy fat leads to clogged blood vessels. If blood is stopped from flowing to the heart, it can cause a heart attack. When blood vessels to the brain become blocked, it can cause a stroke. Fats that fall into the bad category include hydrogenated, saturated and trans fats. Consuming too many unhealthy fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

Good fats are those that do not contribute to the risk of heart disease. Instead, healthy fats lower the level of cholesterol in blood which results in protecting the body from heart disease. Since they are healthy fats, one might think eating more of them can make the body healthier, but that is not the case. Although healthy in some respects, good fats are both high in caloric intake and many will raise the body’s level of triglycerides, so moderation is essential. Fats that are considered good fats are monounsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats.

Hydrogenated and Trans Fats

The chemical process in which liquid vegetable oils are changed into solid or semi-solid fats at room temperature is called hydrogenation. This process changes the structure of the fat into what are known as trans fats, also referred to as trans fatty acids. Trans fats may be found in candy bars, vegetable shortening, commercially baked pastries and cakes, fried foods, pancake mixes, cake mixes and stick margarine. It is important to restrict the amount of hydrogenated and trans fats because most of these fats lower HDL (good cholesterol) while raising LDL (bad cholesterol).

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are those found in animal products, such as chicken and pork skins, cheese, milk fat, lard, meat fats and ice cream. They can also be found in large amounts in tropical oils, like palm and coconut oils. These fats are naturally solid when at room temperature and contribute to raising the level of cholesterol in blood.

Monounsaturated Fats

When left at room temperature, monounsaturated fats from vegetable oil remain in liquid form. These essential ingredients can be found in peanut oil, most nuts, avocados, high-oleic safflower oil and olive oils. They can also be found in sesame and pumpkin seeds. Substituting monounsaturated fats for saturated fats help to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) while not lowering the level of HDL (good cholesterol).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Considered highly beneficial, Omega-3 fatty acids help protect the body from strokes, hypertension and coronary heart disease. They raise HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering triglycerides and the total cholesterol level. The body cannot produce these essential ingredients naturally, so they must come from healthy foods. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, lake trout, tuna, halibut and herring. Additional sources include canola oil, soy products, walnuts, flax seed and soybeans. It is recommended to consume fatty fish several times a per week to add enough Omega-3 to the diet.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats remain in liquid form at room temperature. This fat can be found in vegetable oils like cottonseed, soybean, safflower, sunflower and corn oils. It can also be found in mayonnaise, soft margarine and salad dressings. In small portions, polyunsaturated fats work to lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Eating too much polyunsaturated fat can reduce HDL (good cholesterol).

Fats and Cholesterol

Cholesterol is produced by the liver to take care of certain bodily functions. It helps with the manufacturing of vitamin D and plays a role in certain hormones and cell membrane structures. However, too much cholesterol in the blood may cause arteries to clog and raises the risk of heart disease.

The cholesterol found in foods can not only raise the cholesterol levels in blood, but also raise the risk of coronary heart disease. When it comes to high cholesterol foods, eat smaller, smarter portions to help reduce that risk. Cholesterol can be found in any foods that come from animal sources. Foods such as fish, poultry, egg yolks, meats and dairy products all contain cholesterol. Foods derived from plants do not contain any cholesterol. Fat and cholesterol are not the same, so a low-fat food may contain a high level of cholesterol.