The Skinny on Fats

Essential fatty acids are building blocks for hormones and precursors to hormone-like prostaglandins. Therefore, they are involved in regulating every body function at the cellular level. In addition, they:

  • Regulate water retention, sodium balance and fat metabolism.
  • Are necessary for proper transport and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K.
  • Are responsible for proper flow of bile.
  • Conserve body’s protein.
  • Balance blood sugar by slowing absorption of carbohydrates.
  • Are building block for estrogen, testosterone and other hormones.
  • Are precursors for serotonin, a natural anti-depressant and responsible for controlling appetite.

Your body needs fat. Cell membranes are primarily composed of fat and your brain is 60% fat.

Saturated Fat:  made up of carbon chains with hydrogen filling each open spot. They remain hard at room temperature and are almost exclusively found in animal products. Plant exceptions are coconut, palm kernel oil and palm oil. Excessive amounts of saturated fats, especially when damaged, have been linked with heart disease and cancer.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids: made up of carbon chains with one missing hydrogen molecule. They are liquid at room temperature and semi-solid when refrigerated. Examples are olive oil, canola oil, high-oleic sunflower and safflower oil, most nuts, olives, and avocados. These fats are considered protective against heart disease by being somewhat beneficial for cholesterol levels and lowering blood pressure. They can help diabetics by controlling blood sugar levels and may decrease some cancer risk.

Polyunsaturated Fat: made up of carbon chains with more than one empty hydrogen spot. They are liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated.

There are 2 categories—essential fatty acids (EFA) and long-chain polyunsaturated acids. EFAs include linoleic acid, a precursor to omega-6 and alpha-linoleic acid, a precursor to omega 3. Omega 6’s come from vegetable oils, most seeds and nuts, grains, and legumes. Omega 3’s come from fish such as salmon, tuna, and cod, canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, and microalgae. These 2 omegas need to be balanced somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1 omega 6: omega 3. Long-Chain PFAs are either synthesized in the body from other fatty acids or can be eaten directly from animal sources such as meat and fish, or from microalgae. Benefits vary because proper balance is key, but they are generally considered very important to good health. Omega 3s burn off more quickly that omega 6s, so it is necessary to replenish the stores. O-3s raise your metabolism, help flush water from kidneys, lower triglyceride numbers and help you burn fat and build muscle.

Trans-fatty acids: undesirable monounsaturated fats created by rearranging hydrogen atoms to form stable, hard-at-room-temperature fats out of liquid vegetable oils. This improves shelf life and makes them more suitable for high-temperature cooking. They are very damaging and are believed to be responsible for up to 10% of deaths from heart disease. Sources are margarine, shortening and anything made with hydrogenated fats, such as many crackers, cookies and other processed foods.

Cholesterol: a sterol made by the body, but also found in animal foods, especially eggs and organ meats. Excessive amounts in the blood may lead to increased risk for heart disease and other chronic illnesses.  However, some evidence indicates that most dietary cholesterol is either used or excreted. There are probably several factors besides cholesterol numbers that affect heart health. If one has low cholesterol, eating more is usually advised. Cholesterol is important for production of hormones.

LDL cholesterol: largely responsible for cholesterol deposits. New evidence shows there are large and small particles. New testing involves looking at the size. Large is better.

HDL cholesterol: helps remove cholesterol deposits from arteries.

Triglycerides: Increased levels linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Levels are raised through consumption of carbs, sugar, and alcohol. Low carb diets help reduce triglycerides.

Bobbi Mullins

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™