Fat makes up one of the three main macronutrients known to mankind. Also known as triglycerides, fat gets this name from its chemical structure: three fatty acid chains and one alcohol glycerol. Fat is an important and necessary part of our diet and helps in several structural and metabolic functions. We require it for energy and to process certain vitamins and minerals. Although no produce can have pure saturated or unsaturated fat, we categorise food items according the proportion of the type of fat it contains.
Fats with one or more double fatty acid bonds in their chemical structure are referred to as unsaturated fats. These fats tend to be liquid at room temperature. They come from plants and are found in vegetables, olives, nuts and seeds. Some fish also contain unsaturated fats. There are two main types of unsaturated fats are:
- Monounsaturated Fats – This can be found in avocados, peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, Brazilian nuts, etc. They improve cholesterol levels, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, improve insulin levels and help in stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Polyunsaturated Fats – Omega 3 and Omega 6 make up this category of fats. They help with muscle movements and development, and help in blood clotting. These fats oxidize easily when heated and cannot be produced by the human body. It is important to ensure we consume them in a balanced form as they have a complimentary effect on the body.
Fats with only one fatty acid bound in their chemical structure are known as saturated fats. This fat remains solid at room temperature. Animal meats, poultry, dairy products, dark chocolate and coconut contain high levels of saturated fats. Over the last two decades, saturated fats have earned a bad reputation due it being constantly linked to heart diseases, high cholesterol, weight gain and other lifestyle diseases. However, the truth is that products naturally high in saturated fats tend to be healthy, nutritious and wholesome. These fats (e.g. palm and coconut oil) are excellent for frying because they are heat resistant and are a much better option when compared to processed vegetable oils.
Trans fat is created by exposing polyunsaturated fats to a chemical process that encompasses high heat, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst. They are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and can be re-used several times. Trans Fats are known to cause insulin resistance, inflammation, belly fat accumulation, increase LDL levels, etc. They can be found in packaged food products, frozen foods, industrially fried foods like doughnuts and chips, biscuits, cakes, etc.