Fats – Which ones are healthy?

Fats are essentials macro nutrient.

Its molecules consist of primarily carbon and hydrogen, in that case making them, soluble in organic solvents and insoluble in water.

As a essential nutrient, one should not exclude it from the diet. In fact, fats are found within all the body’s cells and have a wide range of functions within the body:

– Fat is a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins and is necessary for their absorption

– It is required for making hormones

– It provides a protective layer around our vital organs and an insulating layer to keep us warm.

-It also provides the major material of cell membranes.

– Fats also form a structural component of brain tissues and nerves and provide essential fatty acids.

In addition to provide energy to all the cells, it also provides a reserve supply of energy.

There has been a stigma around the consumption of fat and understanding the different types is crucial to help clarifying which types one should aim to consume and which type one should cut down.

There are main 3 types of fat, which are different in structure (chain length and saturation) therefore causing them to react differently in the body with different impact in our health:

Saturated fats : these are fatty acids carrying the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms. They have a solid form at room temperature and tend to come mainly from animal sources, like meat fat and dairy products (butter, cheese, cream).

Although foods of plants have generally lower saturated fat content, the exceptions are coconut, palm oils, margarines and fat spreads derived from plant oils.

Moderation is key in a balanced diet and we should be more mindful when indulging in certain foods as chocolate and butter.

One does not have to exclude those foods from their diet, but do not eat them every day.

Unsaturated Fats: a fatty acid with one or more points of unsaturation where hydrogen atoms are missing.

They are typically found in a liquid form at room temperature and tend to be found in plant based sources.

There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:

Monosaturated Fats (MUFA): a fatty acid that has one point of unsaturation.

The richest sources are olive oil, rapessed/canola oil, avocados, nut and seeds.

Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFA): these are considered essential fats, in other words, they must be obtained trough the diet. There are 2 types:

Omega 6 : mainly found in vegetable oils

Omega 3 : the richest source are found in oily fish, but also found in some nuts and some vegetable oil.

Trans Fats: these fats are manufactured during the process of hardening unsaturated fats to form a more solid spreading fat.

Commonly found in biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies.

How much fat one can eat a day?

The international guidelines recommend that the total fat intake should range from 10 to 35 per cent of daily energy intake, which Saturated fats up to 10 per cent, Polyunsaturated Fat 6-10 per cent ( Omega 6 : 5-8 per cent / Omega 3 : 1-2 per cent ) and Trans Fat maximum of 1-2 per cent.

Ratio Omega 6: Omega 3

The amount of Omega 6 and its relation of the amount of omega 3 in our body is important and well documented.

Omega 6 has a inflammatory profile and omega 3 an anti inflammatory profile.

The ratio recommendation is 5:1.

The ratio in hunger gatherer diets were 1:1 to 3:1. The current ratio of our diet is estimated to range from 10:1 to 18:1.

The implications are a number of chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, neurological disorders, depression, inflammatory bowel diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease where inflammation is involved.

To achieve a balanced ratio, 2-4 portions of oily fish should be consumed per week.

References:

Major, K. The Dietician Kitchen. 2020

Nicolle, L. Beirne A. W., Biochemical Imbalances in Disease

World Health Organization https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet