Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

October 24, 2013 by  
Filed under A Healthy Diet

In this article, I want to identify what type of fats you should include in your diet and the fats that you should endeavor to avoid if you want to burn fat faster. I also want to clear some commonly held misconceptions about fats in general.

Let’s start with some basics. The three macro-nutrient pillars are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The proportion in which they occur within a certain portion of food determines not only the amount of calories you consume but also the fat burning effects of the foods you consume. A complete “spec sheet” would list calories, carbs, protein, fats and fiber contained within a certain weight or volume of a particular food item. You should be aware that calories are more concentrated in fats than they are in carbs or protein. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, twice the amount normally contained in carbohydrates.

Your body needs about 20 grams of saturated fats per day in order to function properly and this includes the normal functioning of the brain cells and the production, maintenance and repair of body cells. They also enable the body to metabolize vitamins so they can be absorbed by our body cells. In addition, fats help our sugar and insulin metabolism and therefore contribute to weight loss and weight maintenance.

This essential need includes fats the body itself cannot produce so it must come from the foods we consume. The fats found in plants and animals are known as dietary fats, hence the importance of what you eat as the body produces its own fat when you consume more calories than the body needs. A good nutritional plan should include a moderate, measured amount of saturated fats to cure hunger cravings and place more emphasis on poly and monounsaturated fats which increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol while also preventing certain types of cancer. Trans fatty acids, which occur in abundance with fried take-away food and processed foods products, should be avoided at all costs. It is worth noting that trans fats were declared illegal in the U.S. in mid-2015.

The key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and avoid trans fats as far as is possible.

Commonly held misconceptions

Nutrition advice fed to us over the last few decades have made us believe that the more fat you eat, the more weight and body fat you will acquire. This is just not true and the advice is misguided. After decades of misleading information telling us that saturated fat causes coronary heart disease, current research has proven that this is not true. There is NO connection between cholesterol in foods and the level of cholesterol in a person’s blood stream.

Before I discuss the fats in more detail, I should also point out how misguided diet information fed to us for decades have caused a great deal of harm. We were told to lower our total fat intake and increase our intake of carbohydrates – cereals, vegetables and fruits.  It is now a well established fact that, while people in general have lowered the amount of calories they get from fat, obesity and its accompanying diseases have increased sharply since the 1960s. Why is this so?  You need look no further than our excessive consumption of unnatural, processed sugars and bad fats.

Composition of fats

Basic biology tells us that all fats have the same amount of calories, but they vary in their chemical compositions. Fats are made of chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms.  The saturation refers to whether all the available spaces on the carbon chain are bonded to hydrogen atoms, or if there are any hydrogen atoms missing. Based on these compositions, fats are classified as saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

  • Saturated fats have all of their carbon atoms filled (saturated) with hydrogen.
  • Monounsaturated fats have one space missing a hydrogen atom, instead containing a double bond between two adjacent carbon atoms.
  • Polyunsaturated fats have more than one hydrogen atom missing in the carbon chain and therefore contain more than one double bond.
  • Omega-3 fats are named because of the existence of a double bond in the 3rd space from the end of the carbon chain.
  • Omega-6 fats derive the name from their molecular structure which has a double bond in the 6th space from the end of the carbon chain.

The bad fats

Trans fats (hydrogenated fats).  We need to distinguish between healthy trans fats that occur in animals and artificially, man-made hydrogenated fats.

The healthy animal fats occur in cattle, sheep and goats. However, be aware that the quantities of healthy trans fats in the meat and dairy products that come from these animals are greatly reduced when the animals are raised on grain and soy products. A healthier amount exists only in grass fed animals.

The bad trans fats are those that occur in abundance in products like margarine, sweets, cookies, cakes, cake icing, doughnuts and potato chips and in the partially hydrogenated oils that exist in most processed foods, junk foods and deep fried foods. These fats are known to increase unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol and lower the level of good HDL cholesterol, as well as causing heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

These fats are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. This process uses harsh chemical solvents like hexane (a component of gasoline), high heat and pressure. The process also adds a metal catalyst before the liquid is deodorized and bleached. The purpose is to produce vegetable oils and shortenings that are economical and less likely to spoil in storage. You can detect the presence of trans fat in food products from the inclusion of the words partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated on the food label.

These hydrogenated oils cause inflammation inside your body which, in turn, causes deposition of cholesterol as a healing agent on artery walls.  The end result is clogged arteries, a major cause of heart disease.

The good fats

Saturated fats. These fats occur in meat cuts, cheese, whole milk, butter, cheese, ice-cream, poultry with skin and also in coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. However, as I mentioned earlier, you body needs about 20g of saturated fat on a daily basis in order to function properly.

Monounsaturated fat (MUFA). This type of fat is found olive, peanut and canola oils and in foods such as nut butters, peanuts, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts as well as avocados, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). The two major categories of polyunsaturated fats are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It is very important to distinguish between the two.

Omega-3  fats. These fats are very healthy. The body uses Omega-3 fats to produce hormone like substances that are anti-inflammatory. They reduce the risk of death by heart attack and also lower triglycerides in the blood. These fats occur naturally in fatty cold water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herrings and in canola, flaxseed and soybean oils as well as walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, chia seeds (Flavia) and flax seeds.

Omega-6 fats. These fatty acids can be found in most seed oils such as corn, soybean, sunflower and safflower oils as well as peanuts and avocados.

The Omega-6 fats may reduce the total level of good and bad cholesterol, but they also occur in hormone-like substances that promote inflammation. From a nutritional viewpoint, it is important to consume Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats close to the recommended ratio of 4:1. Regrettably, our typical western diet provides a ratio as high as 15:1 or 20:1, an Omega-6 consumption that is far too high. This is known to increase inflammation in the body which is the underlying cause of many diseases. In addition, too much Omega-6 fats block the crucial Omega-3 fats.

Summary

Good nutrition does not mean that you need to eliminate all bad fats but to find a healthy balance between what is good and bad. Your fat burning foods should include healthy fats, a limited amount saturated fat and preferably no trans fat.

For more information on this subject, read an accompanying post titled Fats and Cholesterol.

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