What makes a donut, fettucini alfredo, peanut butter and that picture of cheese cakes mouth watering and delicious you can’t get enough? Fat!! They all contain a lot of fat; that’s right folks that dreaded 3 letter word, F-A-T. And fat tastes good:) Some of you might say, wait Kristina fat is bad, that means high calories, increased waist line, tears! Why are you talking about fatty foods, shouldn’t we avoid them all? Well my friend, let me start by telling you that fat is not ‘bad,’ in fact fat is an essential component of your diet; 20-30% of a diet should be made up of fat. Now after saying this, I must put in a small caveat, fat is not created equal. Saturated fat, the kind you find in butter, coconut oil, cream, chocolate and in animal products, provides us with high calories, but not much else… you might call it the insulating fat! In that it is great for putting inches to your waist and keeping you warm from the cold, however provides little other nutrition quality! Small amounts are fine, but you do not want this to be your primary source of fat, research shows that diets high in saturated fat increase the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and possibly some forms of cancer. So watch the sat fat!
So if 30% of our diet needs to come from fat and sat fat seems rather evil what do I eat? Excellent question, which leads us to unsaturated fats.
Because I was (and quite possibly still am) a chemistry nerd, you have the honor of suffering through a small chemistry lesson. What does saturated versus unsaturated mean? (I know everyone is asking this question) This has to do with chemical bonds! (A bond is the link between two elements, think periodic table)
For example: water’s (H2O) structure looks like this, H-O-H, with two elements of hydrogen and one of oxygen joined together with dashes. The ‘-‘is the bond.
Saturated fats have only single bonds, one ‘-‘between elements.
Unsaturated fats have two bonds, think equal sign, ‘=’.
For example: formaldehyde (CH2O), that smelly embalming fluid, looks like this O=C-2Hs. The oxygen has a double bond with the carbon.
So the difference between the fats is the bonding! Unsaturated fat has an ‘=’ whereas sat fat only gets ‘-‘s.
Back to the fat!
Unsaturated fats like olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils have those double bonds and do not react in our body the same their fat brother, saturated fat, does. You can call them the healthy fats or the unsat is the better fat!
There are two forms of unsaturated fat, poly-unsaturated fat and mono-unsaturated fat. Any guesses on the difference?? Ohh you smarty pants, I know you said number of double bonds! That’s right. Mono, meaning one or sole, refers to a single double bond i.e. one ‘=’ sign. Poly, meaning multiple or many, has more than one double bond.
Monounsaturated fat is found in nuts, olives, olive oil, avocados, whole grain wheat, oatmeal, and many other foods. Eaten in moderation, it has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and thus lowers total cholesterol and prevents heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish, algae, leafy greens, and an assortment of other foods. Polyunsaturated fats are affected by heat and processing; so eating whole food sources is always best. Polyunsaturated is the parent of our popular omega 3 and omega 6 fats.
Omega 3 fats, found in our aquatic friends, fish, has been shown to lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and research is showing a possible protective effect against breast cancer reoccurrence. This leads to the recommendation of at least one fish meal a week or for the vegetarian a fish oil supplement!
Omega-6 is found in palm, soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. There are still many controversies over the benefits or harm of this fat, so I cannot tell you to avoid or ingest a specific amount. Moderation in all things, stick to monounsaturated fat (olive oil) as your go to cooking fat of choice.
You may be saying to yourself, hey Kristina, you left out a fat! And you are right. Let’s talk about the infamous Trans fat! It went from being the magic ingredient in almost all processed foods to the unhealthiest additive on the market! But why? How is trans fat different from the other fats. Well, I guess we need one more chemistry review.
Watch Out More Chemistry Ahead!
Trans fat belongs in the unsaturated fat family, i.e. has one of those pesty double bonds “=”! Its full name is trans unsaturated fat, trans fat is just easier to say.
So you are saying there is good and bad unsaturated fat? What gives? Let’s begin with understanding what trans fat means. The word trans has to do with the location of the hydrogens surrounding the double bond. That make any sense? Hmm let’s start from the beginning.
So fat is made up a chain of carbons and hydrogens. A carbon is allowed four bonds or four ‘-‘s. So if you were to write a ‘C’ on a paper, then place two H’s, one north and one south of the C and two more C’s, one east and west of that C, draw a bond, ‘-,‘ to each H and C you would have our saturated fat. And looks like a row of C’s with H’s as the bun. The C is filled up with single bonds and there are no equal signs.
Now if we had a unsaturated fat we need a double bond, “=,” which is made up of two lines, we now only have room for 2 more H’s. So on that paper where you drew the saturated fat, let’s draw a unsaturated fat. So draw two C’s with an equal sign linking them (C=C) on the paper, draw one H directly above each C. Link the H to the C with one bond ‘-‘ and voila we have a our typical unsaturated fat !
Some of you might say, yea so what? Why are you talking about all of this stuff… well my friends, what you have just drawn with the H’s above the C’s is the cis unsaturated fat (these are the ones I talked about above, the mono and poly-unsaturated fat). Cis, refers to the H’s being on the same side. This brings us to Trans fats, this is where the H’s are on opposite sides of the C. See the below picture.
Trans fat are almost nonexistent in the natural word (a small amount is found in milk), they are created. Scientist found a way to blast the regular unsaturated fat structure, where the H’s were neighbors, to one where the H’s are enemies! This small change in the structure causes a catastrophic change in our body. We do not digest this fat the same we digest other fats, it acts a little bit like a saturated fat as well as uniquely evil human body hating agent at the same time.
Trans fat increases the risk of heart disease by raising the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels similar to sat fat AND lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. It has a double trigger in clogging up those arteries! You might considerate a wee bit evil as far as hurting your body.
You find trans fats in hydrogenated oils and Crisco, which are used in most snack, boxed, and processed foods (take look at labels in your kitchen, you might be surprised). My recommendation… avoid the fat. There is absolutely no reason to eat it and many reasons not to eat it, like your for health. (This does not count the natural occurring trans fat in milk, its special and not inherently evil like the one we create in labs)
So I have covered a lot of information and some of it can be extremely confusing so I will make a quick recap.
- Sat Fat- not stellar, increases bad cholesterol, found in animal products, coconut oils, etc. Use sparingly.
- Mono unsaturated fat- favorite fat! Our go-to cholesterol lowering, kick ass fat! Found in olive oil, whole grains, avocados, etc.
- Polyunsaturated fat- Omega 3 is fishtastic! Eat it J, at least 1 meal a week, but go for 3! Great health benefits
- Trans fat = devil. Avoid Avoid! Increases bad cholesterol, decreases good cholesterol. Wants you to have a heart attack.
As always I love hearing comments and receiving questions from readers! So don’t hesitate, write something, was this helpful at all?