What Are Dietary Fats?
Fats are a type of macronutrient that you get from your diet. These are present in most of the foods you eat from dairy products, nuts, seeds, and oils to baked goods and fast food.
Over the years, fats have gained a bad reputation. This is because they’re linked to weight gain and the risk of diabetes. In fact, food items that are ‘fat-free’ are often considered healthier.
But contrary to popular belief, these are myths.
Benefits of Dietary Fat
Fats are a core nutrient of your diet, just like protein and carbohydrates. Your body needs fat because of the following reasons :
- It provides your body with the required energy to function.
- It protects your organs like the kidney, liver, and heart.
- Fat consumption helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in your body.
- It supports cell growth in your body.
- It also helps regulate your blood glucose level.
- It is responsible for the production of crucial hormones, particularly reproductive hormones.
A diet rich in good fats, along with other nutrients, reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. But, as important as these are, not all fats are the same. There are 3 different types of dietary fats:
- Saturated Fats
- Unsaturated Fats
- Trans Fats
Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Besides, they’re also considered a prime cause of obesity.
Some of the most common foods with trans fat are:
- Baked goods: cakes, cookies, pies
- Fried foods: doughnuts, french fries, chicken nuggets
- And all the kinds of processed snacks.
You should try to avoid the consumption of trans fats altogether. But when it comes to saturated fats vs unsaturated fats, the answer is a bit more nuanced. Let’s find out in detail.
What Are Saturated Fats?
Fats are differentiated from each other on the basis of their chemical composition. All types of fats consist of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. These are connected with each other using single and double bonds.
But, what makes fat saturated or unsaturated?
Simple! It's the number of hydrogen atoms present in their chemical structure.
Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules. This means that these fats have the greatest number of hydrogen atoms. All the atoms are connected with each other via single bonds.
The list of foods with saturated fat consists of:
- Dairy products like milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese
- Processed meat like bacon, hot dogs, and bologna
- Packed Snacks like potato chips, cookies, and cakes
- Animal meat like beef, pork, and lamb
- Plant oils like Palm kernel and Coconut oil
Now, let’s find out whether consuming saturated fat is good for you or not.
Is Saturated Fat Good or Bad?
Saturated fat falls somewhere between the good and the bad. A saturated fat-rich diet increases LDL levels in your body. LDL or bad cholesterol prompts blockages in arteries and may lead to vascular problems.
But, these results are far from conclusive. Other cases have found no direct link between saturated fat and heart disease.
So, while some people may claim you need to avoid saturated fat, you don’t actually need to do that!All you have to do is moderate the amount of saturated fat you consume on a regular basis. So, what’s the right amount of saturated fat you can consume daily?
How Much Saturated Fats Per Day?
Not much is known about the ideal saturated fat daily intake. As per the American Heart Association, your calorie intake from saturated fats must be about 5% to 6% of your daily calorie consumption. That’s a good place to start.
Ideally, you should distribute your fat consumption throughout the day. Also, include a good portion of protein and healthy vegetables on the side.
Now, let’s have a look at the most healthy kind of fats, also known as unsaturated fats.
What Are Unsaturated Fats?
Unsaturated fats consist of more than one double bond. Since it consists of two carbon atoms linked with double bonds, the fat is not saturated with hydrogen. And hence, they’re called unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated fat belongs to the category of good or healthy fats. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats:
These fats have only one double bond in their chemical structure. Monounsaturated Fats are also called MUFAs or Monounsaturated Fatty Acids.
Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include:
- Oils like olive and canola oils
- Nuts like pecans, almonds, and macadamias
- Seeds like sesame and pumpkin seeds
- Eggs and avocados
This type of unsaturated fat has more than one double bond in its structure. More importantly, it contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both of these are found to be essential for proper brain function.
Polyunsaturated fats are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs.
Examples of polyunsaturated fats include:
- Vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, corn, and avocado
- Nuts like almonds and walnuts
- Seeds like flax, sunflower, and chia
- Fish like trout, herring, and mackerel
- And peanut butter
Now, let’s have a look at the difference between these two types of unsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats vs Monounsaturated Fats
The main difference between polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats is that monounsaturated fats have one carbon-to-carbon double bond in their structure. However, polyunsaturated fats have more than one carbon-to-carbon double bond.
In addition, monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory properties. On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats have both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory properties.
Common examples of MUFAs include Palmitoleic acid, oleic acid, and cis-vaccenic acid. While polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Now that you have a basic understanding of unsaturated fats, let’s learn how healthy or unhealthy these are for you!
Is Unsaturated Fat Good or Bad?
Unlike saturated fats, the health benefits of unsaturated fats are well-established. These help in lowering LDL or bad cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.
It also helps in building a strong cell membrane and stabilizing heart rhythms. Not to mention, research also indicates that it helps protect and improve your brain function.
So, what’s the recommended intake of unsaturated fats for you?
How Much Unsaturated Fat Per Day?
Cleveland Clinic recommends that your unsaturated fat daily intake must be between 25 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake. This equals to 55 to 77 grams of fat on a 2,000-calorie diet.
With this, let’s know how these two fats are different from each other and what all factors set them apart!
Saturated Fats vs Unsaturated Fats
The main difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats is that they differ in the presence of hydrogen atoms and bonds.
But there is more to it!
Let’s find out what is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats on the basis of various other factors.
Saturated Fats vs Unsaturated Fats: Bond Arrangement and State
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. This is because they do not have any carbon-carbon double bond.
Unsaturated fats are in a liquid state at room temperature. This is because they have one or more carbon-carbon double bonds. They do, however, start to solidify when chilled.
In short, the bonds in the chemical structure of fats define whether they’re in the liquid or solid-state.
Saturated Fats vs Unsaturated Fats: Effects On The Body
Saturated fats were previously thought to increase the risk of heart disease. This is because they increase the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in our blood. This further leads to blockage of arteries.
But these findings are not clear-cut or conclusive. A recent study observed that saturated fats might not risk your heart health. Apart from this, saturated fats seem to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Further, saturated fats are linked with cancer risks and mental decline. But there are only limited studies done on the mental effects of saturated fat. Thus, nothing can be stated with absolute certainty.
Saturated Fats vs Unsaturated Fats: What’s better for cooking?
Saturated fats have a very high smoke point. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have relatively low smoke points.
The smoke point is the temperature at which fat starts to burn and produce smoke. Burning fat above its smoke point causes oxidation. This, when consumed, is harmful to your body.
Thus, low smoke point fats like unsaturated fats aren’t good for high heat methods of cooking. Use them for low-heat cooking methods like light sauteing.
For high-heat cooking like frying, saturated fats are a lot more stable and healthier than unsaturated fats.
For leading a healthy life, you need to eat a nutrient-rich and balanced diet. Fats are an essential component of your meals. And so, like any other macronutrient, you cannot just overlook these!
Just make sure to balance the proportion of your fat intake. This saturated fats vs unsaturated fats guide compile all the key points you must know about. Note that more research is needed to understand the effects of these fats on our bodies.
However, the following three things are quite certain :
- Trans fats in any form are bad for your health.
- Unsaturated fats have numerous health benefits and are a good kind of fats.
- And saturated fat lies somewhere between the good and the bad. Opt for healthy sources such as coconut oil and have them in moderation.