Fats are essential nutrients with several benefits such as cushioning internal organs against injury, enabling digestion and absorbing fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K in the body.
Isaac Kabazzi, a public health nutrition expert, says the body can survive on fat stores for weeks. “However, with the craze to lose weight, some people want to totally cut fat out of their diets, something that is detrimental to one’s health since in doing this, you also cut out the good fat,” he says.
There are two types/forms of fats; saturated and unsaturated fats
Trans unsaturated fat
Also called trans-unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, this is a type of unsaturated fat that occurs in small amounts in meat and milk. Kabazzi says these fats are found in margarine, processed foods, snacks such as chips, deep fried fish, pastries and confectionaries, among others.
“They are more damaging since they are more likely to block the arteries, cause obesity and cancer than saturated fats. They are also known to increase the levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in one’s blood while reducing the beneficial LDL cholesterol levels,” he shares.
As such, they are said to be a catalyst for heart disease. They are also said to lead to insulin resistance hence linked to type 2 diabetes.
Kabazzi also notes that these fats are also formed in oils that have been used for deep frying many times (more than twice). “Trans fat levels in reused oil increase with increased reuse of the oil,” he shares.
There is no known health benefit of consuming these fats hence no safe consumption levels.
These have fewer hydrogen atoms attached to carbon atoms and are mostly in oil form and are got from plants. “These are also synonymous with improving cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, promoting weight loss, and supporting brain health,” Wenceslaus Seguya, a nutritionist, shares. They are categorised in to two types:
Monounsaturated oils: Seguya says these are liquid at room temperature and are healthier. They are found in avocado, nuts and vegetable oils such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. “Olive oil, which is approximately 76 per cent monounsaturated, is a key component in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease,” he shares.
Polyunsaturated oils: These are mainly vegetable oils such as sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. “Polyunsaturated fat are also referred to as essential oils hence required for daily body functions inasmuch as the body cannot make them. Some of the functions are covering nerves, building cell membranes while aiding blood clotting and muscle movement,” Seguya mentions. These oils are the main fat found in seafood.
The two types of polyunsaturated fats are;
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are found in foods from plants such as soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. “They are also found in fatty fish and shellfish as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines and trout are high in EPA and DHA and lower in mercury. As such, they are said to prevent as well as treat stroke and heart disease. This is because they raise HDL cholesterol and help keep your heart pumping at a normal rate,” he explains.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in liquid vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.
They are solid at room temperature and are mainly found in animal products such as butter, ghee, processed meats such as sausages, confectionery and pastries, fatty meat cuts, red meat, minced meat, full fat diary, and cheese.
Saturated fats are also high in some vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
Looking at its chemical composition, Kabazzi says these fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms.
While they are not as bad as trans-fats, he explains that excessive consumption of foods rich in these fats will increase the cholesterol levels in one’s blood.
“An increase in harmful LDL cholesterol thus leads to blockages in arteries and in other body parts. They are, therefore, linked to heart diseases, some cancers such as bowel cancer, and diabetes. As such, consuming them in moderation is advisable,” he says.
It is advisable that you eat more unsaturated fats, a moderate amount of saturated fats while avoiding trans-unsaturated fats. While it might not be easy to throw the chips and margarine out of your shopping basket or kitchen, gradually cutting back on the consumption of such foods is great for your health.