The word fat literally haunts all of us in today’s world. The many myths about fats have actually misguided us. People considered fats as unhealthy and calorie laden and the root cause of many diseases. The researchers were constantly looking at the effects of moderate to high fat intake on health. For the people today, it’s a big challenge to understand and select from amongst the different varieties of fat available today and to find differences between the good and harmful ones to eventually make the correct choice.
For a quick chemical review of fats, let us have a look on the following points.
One molecule of fat is made up of three molecules of fatty acids and one of glycerol. Depending upon the saturation of the bond in the carbon atom, they are of two types:
- Saturated fats – they are solid at room temperature. eg: All animal fats (except fish) i.e. meat, butter, milk, eggs, ghee, cheese, ice cream, lard, palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, cream, pastries etc. They increase blood cholesterol level and may cause heart disease in adults.
- Unsaturated fats: they are liquid at room temperature. Eg: Fats from plants i.e. oil, nuts, seeds. They reduce the harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood and promote health naturally. It is of two types:
- Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) – Eg: olive oil, groundnut oil, mustard oil, almond, walnuts, cashew.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) – Eg: sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil etc.
Essential fatty acids: These are essential for our body and good health. Our body can synthesise most fatty acids but some have to be obtained from food which body cannot synthesise. They are:
i). Omega 6 fatty acids (also called Linoleic acids) – They are found in most of the cooking vegetable oils. They are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system and immune system. They prevent the increase in blood cholesterol level and also help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
ii). Omega 3 fatty acids (also called Alpha Linolenic acids) – They are found in fish oil, flax seeds, walnuts, soybean oil. They are very essential for good health. They increase good cholesterol and reduce the production of triglycerides which is harmful. They help in preventing heart attacks, arthritis, high blood pressure, sudden cardiac arrest, stroke, depression.