Saturday, April 24

Know Your Fats

We have a question submitted by a reader this week! Jessica from Tennessee would like to know: “I found some carrot chips I like, but they’re made in sunflower oil. Is that high in saturated fat?”

The quick answer is no, but let’s chat about fats! Why do we consider saturated fat bad? What kind of fats are good? What’s the different between them?

The first 2 types of fats we’ll discuss are unsaturated fats and saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are divided into 2 groups—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are called “unsaturated” because of their chemical makeup (monounsaturated fats having only one double bond in the chain of fatty acids, polyunsaturated having more than one). So, without using a microscope, how can we tell if a fat is unsaturated? The lack of hydrogen atoms (eliminated by the double bonds) makes the melting temperature of a fat lower meaning, at room temperature, unsaturated fats will remain a liquid. A quick test: which is unsaturated fat, olive oil or butter? Olive oil, because it remains a liquid when it’s sitting on your counter.

Polyunsaturated fats help to keep your LDL cholesterol low. Your LDL cholesterol is what clogs your arteries, the “bad” cholesterol. You can find polyunsaturated fats in fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout. However, monounsaturated fats actually raise your HDL cholesterol. Your HDL cholesterol takes the LDL cholesterol back to your liver (keeping it out of your arteries), the “good” cholesterol. You can find monounsaturated fats in plant sources of fat like walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, avocados, and olives.

Saturated fats are called so because they have no double bonds in their fatty acid chain and are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. As mentioned above, the hydrogen atoms make the melting temperature higher, so these fats are solid at room temperature. A quick test; which is saturated fat, canola oil or Crisco? Crisco, because you can keep that sucker in your cupboard and it’s still a solid.

Saturated fats contribute to your LDL cholesterol; however, we do actually need a certain amount of saturated fat in our diets. Saturated fats contribute to cell growth, are preferred fuel for some muscles, and are an important component in certain hormones. So you certainly don’t want to cut saturated fats completely out of your diet. But most of us get plenty of saturated fat in our diet, so we shouldn’t focus on adding any in. Saturated fats are found in animal sources like cheese, milk, beef, eggs, and ham. Some plant sources also have saturated fat, like coconut and palm.

The last fat to discuss can be thrown into the “bad” or “unhealthy” foods category without pause. Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are unsaturated fats that have had hydrogen atoms forced onto them turning them partially or completely into a saturated fat. These fats were discovered in the early 1900s, and scientists used to think they would solve all our cholesterol problems. Turns out, they only contribute toward them and have absolutely no health benefits. Trans fats, thanks to the FDA, are required to always be marked in the nutritional information of a product (since these fats are only found in processed foods). Check your labels!

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