Fat is one of the interchangeable macronutrients for energy. On a regular diet carbohydrates are the main source of energy, while on a ketogenic diet, energy is obtained from fats. This topic is quite controversial due to the pile of lies we’ve been fed over the years. However, a basic understanding of the different types of fat we can consume should be enough to start removing the veil and see fat for what it is, just another macronutrient.
Fats are molecules made by carbon atoms and can be utilized by your body to store or obtain energy. Sometimes people use the words “fat”, “lipid” and “oil” as interchangeable terms, however this is not the case. The first difference relies on the lipid’s state at room temperature, fat can be found as solid, while oil is most of the time found as a liquid. And “lipid” is the general term applied to any of these types of fat.
Have you heard of fatty acids?
Fatty acids are the result of fat digestion and they play an important role on one’s health. They’re used by your body to regulate your mood, help with inflammation, and make hormones, to name a few. There are only 2 (two) fatty acids considered “essential fatty acids” for human beings: Omega 3, and omega 6. This is because a healthy adult can synthesize the other fatty acids. Healthy being key for this, since some disease can mess up with this process.
How many types of fats are there?
Well unlike proteins (which are classified depending on its essential amino acid content), fats are categorized based on their molecular structure.
Saturated fats are named like this because their molecule structure is “full”, meaning each carbon atom will be connected to something by a single bond. Their molecular structure allows them to stack on each other easily, perhaps this is why saturated fats tend to be found as solids at room temperature. Saturated fat is present in other foods like oats, or almonds, but the amount is very low, therefore, besides coconuts the other main dietary sources for saturated fat come from animal foods like: Bacon, milk, cheese, steaks, etc.
Monounsaturated fats have a double bond on their molecular structure, this means that one of their carbons will be connected by a double bond. This in term means, they don’t stack so well on each other, therefore can be found in a liquid state as well.
Polyunsaturated fats have 2 (two) or more carbon atoms connected by a double bond on their molecular structure. This means they don’t stack well on each other and will be most likely found as liquids in room temperature.
Foods usually contain both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats at the same time, examples are: olive oil, avocado, fish, etc.
Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, have double bonds in their molecular structures. Unlike monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, these ones DO STACK well. Foods that contain this type of fat are mainly processed ones.
Is a lipid made by your body and found in very small quantities (compared to our body) in foods like eggs. It serves as a builder for other chemicals made by your body.
What impact does fat have on our health?
Well, it is everyone’s fear to get fat from eating fat, this is the easiest myth to clear, since the main factor for gaining weight will be your caloric intake. But there is one more issue to address, the deal with fat and heart disease. Well to explain this in more or less a simple way, you should go back to the description of each type of fat, see how I said one stacks easier than others? Well that means (without many technicalities) it’s easier for them to pile up on your veins and create plaque.
But this is worse from trans fats because they’re “artificially made” therefore our body is not used to dealing with them.
Summary, unsaturated fats seem like the healthiest alternative, and trans fats as the worse. However, there are many factors playing a role for heart disease, like the ratio between each level on a lipid profile, for instance. So, don’t stress about it, just remember to keep your food choices healthy, and avoid trans fats.