Updated: 3 hours ago
Fatty acids, aka fat, are an essential macronutrient to the human body. Fat is so important that we need to start consuming it as soon as we are born to ensure our body, brain, and nervous system develop correctly. However, as we age, the amount and type of fat we consume can either optimize health or deteriorate it.
There are two main types of fat. Saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Simply put, saturated fat is the unhealthy type of fat and unsaturated is the healthy one. Let me explain each one in a bit more depth!
Saturated fat is a category of fat that contains a high proportion of fatty acid molecules without double bonds. Saturated means it has the maximum number of hydrogen atoms bonded to carbon atoms.That might sound a bit complicated but what it really means is; a fatty acid molecule with no double bonds means it has the ability to build up in the blood and arteries, causing an array of health issues.
Saturated fat is typically solid at room temperature and is mainly sourced from animals including dairy products. There are some sources of saturated fat that come from plants such as coconut, coconut oil, palm and palm kernel oil.
On nutrition labels the first category is total fat. Under that you will see saturated fat. In some foods there is a subcategory of saturated fat called trans fat. Trans fatty acid is extremely unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. The saturated fat molecules undergo a process called hydrogenation. This rearranges the carbon atoms to become very close to the double bond. This basically makes it a mega saturated fat and the health risks are 10x more prominent.
There are some very small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats found in certain animal products like meat. Do not worry about those. The trans fats you need to worry about are the unnatural ones found in a lot of fast food and baked goods.
One thing to note: Some foods, like certain brands of peanut butter, have hydrogenated oil listed in the ingredients but the trans fat says 0grams. This means that there is no trans fat per one serving. Meaning, if you eat more than one of the recommended servings on the nutrition label, you are at risk of consuming trans fat. The ingredients are definitely something to pay attention to. Become familiar with what you are putting into your body.
Both saturated fat and trans fat will harden the arteries, increase body fat and risk of obesity and obesity related issues like diabetes, heart issues, musculoskeletal problems, as well as psychological distress.
Unsaturated fat on the other hand has at least one double bond in the fatty acid molecule. These molecules can be both liquid or solid at room temperature and are sourced from plants.
There are two subcategories for unsaturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. This is what you will want to look for on nutrition labels for the unsaturated fat content.
Monounsaturated fat means it contains one double bond while polyunsaturated fat means it contains at least two. When double bonds form, that harmful hydrogen atom gets eliminated. This makes it a healthy source of fat for us to consume and actually helps to clear clogged arteries. Some sources of unsaturated fat are…
Avocados, nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, oils like olive, avocado, grape seed, sunflower and peanut, olives, fish like salmon (not including shellfish).
All of the omega fats fall under the unsaturated fat category. That includes omega-3 which comes from fish. Omega-6 are derived from nuts like cashews, soybeans, corn oil, and seeds. Omega-9 food sources include olives, avocados, and nuts like almond, walnuts, and peanuts.
Unsaturated fat is essential to our health as is helps clear clogged arteries, reduce risk of heart attack and stoke, develop and maintain the body's cells, maintain metabolism, heart and brain health, keep the myelin sheath around our nerves healthy, and aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins which are A, D, E, and K.
Side note: Fat soluble vitamins get stored in fat cells. The vitamins remain there for about 6-8 weeks. Very high doses of fat soluble vitamins can be toxic to the body since they are not being secreted out via urine like water soluble vitamins. It is recommended that you talk to a doctor before you start taking any fat soluble vitamins to assure that you actually need them and they won't be harmful to your health.
The general recommended amount of unsaturated fat consumption is about 50% - 65% of total daily fat intake. Saturated fat on the other hand should only account for about 7% of total daily fat consumption. The number of grams will vary from person to person. If you want to take your fat intake seriously, I recommend downloading a meal tracker app and start tracking everything.
By the way, as far as calories go, 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories whereas carbs and protein contain 4 calories per gram. This is why fatty foods will always be higher in calories. Fat is very energy dense, just something to be aware of.
Now that we know all about the different types of fat and how they can affect our health, let's talk about how they directly affect cholesterol.
Cholesterol is an organic steroid, naturally occurring in our body. It’s mostly synthesized by the liver but as we learned can be consumed by saturated fat. It’s a type of molecule found in most body tissue as a structural component and is essential for cell membranes and steroid compounds throughout the body. Cholesterol binds to certain proteins in blood to be transported throughout the body - called lipoproteins.
There are three kinds of cholesterol/lipoproteins. HDL - high density lipoproteins. LDL - low density lipoproteins. VLDL - very low density lipoprotein (a subcategory of LDL).
Let’s start with the good one! HDL is the cholesterol that helps clear out the bad cholesterol found in arteries and blood. While unsaturated fat sources help with this as well, we cannot consume HDL. Unsaturated fat sources, which come from plants, do not contain cholesterol. High density lipoprotein cholesterol can only be created within the body through exercise, physical activity, and a healthy lifestyle like losing excess body fat and not smoking cigarettes.
LDL on the other hand is the not so healthy kind of cholesterol that we do consume through saturated fat sources. Low density lipoproteins picks up the cholesterol that has been ingested and drops it off in blood vessels and muscles where the concentration can build up and cause clogged arteries known as atherosclerosis: the buildup of plaque in the arteries causing them to narrow which decreases blood flow.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that VLDL is very bad. VLDL is cholesterol made by the liver that delivers triglycerides, a kind of fat molecule, to the body's cells and tissues. The liver will begin to make too much VLDL when eating too much saturated fat and living a sedentary lifestyle. Having a build up of VLDL in the blood is dangerous and can cause and worsen medical conditions especially those caused by obesity. Too much of LDL and VLDL in the blood will cause any of the following…
Cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, obstructive jaundice, nephrosis, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, hepatic biliary disease, cholesterolemia, infectious diseases, fatty liver disease and many more.
Food sources that are high in LDL are…
Red meat, eggs specifically the yolk as the whites only contain protein, any dairy product and foods containing dairy ingredients, and shellfish.
That may feel like a lot to take in. There’s a lot of terminology in this post but I want to make sure you get a deeper understanding of fat and how they affect our health. While fat is such a crucial part of our diets, too much of the wrong types of fat can take a toll on overall health.
It’s important to start getting blood tests done in the 20’s. When you go for your yearly physical, ask your doctor to test cholesterol. It’s so important to be aware of the state in which your body is in. You may feel fine, be at a healthy weight, and believe you're eating healthy. None of this really indicates healthy cholesterol levels. The only way to know if your levels are healthy is to get them tested yearly.
Making lifestyle changes is huge in maintaining and developing healthy cholesterol levels. Keeping meat consumption to a minimum especially red meat. Meats like chicken and turkey are healthier options as they don’t contain as much saturated fat.
Start swapping out foods like butter for oils or plant based butter. Swap animal milk for almond, oat, or hemp milk. Start eating more fruits, veggies, whole oats, nut butters, nuts and seeds, plain greek yogurt, plain white or brown rice. Begin reducing consumption of packaged food, fast food, and baked goods.
Make sure you are exercising or getting at the very least some kind of physical activity. Cardio and weight lifting are absolutely amazing for the body as should be performed at least three times a week. Getting the heart rate up is super important for heart health. If you’d like to learn more about exercise, specifically weight lifting, I wrote a whole blog post on it so I will leave that linked below!
Lifestyle changes like this can be tough. Start slowly and get excited to take care of your body in every way. It is one of the highest forms of self love and self respect. You need to prioritize your own health because you only get one body. Take precious care of it 💕
Wishing you a beautiful day 🌿