The type of fats you consume can influence your overall health. However, with the many different varieties, it may be difficult to determine the types that are best to consume. In general, fats are differentiated through molecular structure, but really, all one needs to know is the key terms that will help one determine the best to use in one’s diet.
Fats can be broken into the following categories: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and fatty acids. Fatty acids are further broken down into essential fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids. The second grouping incorporates the types of fats from saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources.
Essential fatty acids are the type the body most needs. These include fat from several sources, and are often called Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids. They are considered essential, since the body needs them to function properly, but they must be obtained through consumption.
The fatty acids that are considered essential can be derived from certain vegetable oils, oils made from grains like flax seed oil, and fish oil. One can also get some through eating things like fish, vegetables and grains.
The worst types of fats are hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. These are most likely to boost cholesterol levels if regularly consumed. The chemical process that causes hydrogenation has been linked to heart disease and to other illnesses. The best is monounsaturated fat, like canola or olive oil. These have been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats are also indicated in lowering bad cholesterol, but they may also slightly lower good cholesterol as well. Fats that are considered polyunsaturated include sunflower and safflower oil, and most other nut oils. Corn oil is also typically polyunsaturated.
Saturated fats usually are derived from meat or dairy sources. They are often considered a better choice than partially hydrogenated fats. For example, butter is considered better for one’s health than most margarines.
Health experts suggest that the type of fats consumed should fit the following profile:
- Monounsaturated fats should make up most of the fats one eats.
- Polyunsaturated fats should be used in moderation.
- Saturated fats should be least used.
- Partially hydrogenated fats and chemically produced trans-fatty acids should be avoided.
- Foods containing essential fatty acids are encouraged.