We often refer to fats as the biological molecules at the cause of our dietary impairment; truly, fats are elegant biological substances, that play essential roles in the biology of humans and animals, and must be consumed in moderation, depending of the food sources.
Fatty acids are building blocks of lipids; Fatty acids (FAs) are lipid biomolecules that are present in all organisms and perform a variety of functions.
Fats have different structures, and correspondingly diverse roles in the body. For instance, fats are a concentrated energy source and are the body main form of stored energy. Among other functions, fats:
· provide insulation (support the regulation of the body’s temperature),
· form the major material of cell membranes and support cell growth
· protect organs
· provide building blocks for hormones and
· carry fat-soluble vitamins (A, C, D, E & K) and assist in the absorption of these vitamins fat soluble.
Physically, fats are characterised by their inability to mix well with water. At the molecular level, fatty acids are carboxylic acids with long chains which may be straight or branched, saturated or unsaturated and both affecting the body in different ways; Saturated fatty acids are often found in animal food products while unsaturated fatty acids are predominantly found in plant-based food products, but also in some types of fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel. Omega-3 and omega-6 are types of unsaturated fatty acids. Fats containing predominantly saturated fats are usually solids at room temperature. Meanwhile, oils containing predominantly unsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature. Examples of these are:
· vinegar, butter, lard and animal fat but also palm oil and coconut oil,
· rapeseed, canola, avocado & olive oil
· sunflower seed, soybean, corn, rapeseed, fish oils.
Dietary Facts on Fats from Foods.
Fat is the most calorific of all macronutrients and contribute 9kcal per gram ingested. So it should be added to foods cautiously and should be ideally consumed in the form of whole foods such as nuts and seeds and other plants but with moderation.
Dietary fats stimulate the appetite, help make cooked foods tender and contribute to the feeling of fullness; dietary fats derive from a wide variety of food sources:
· animal (meat, lard, butter, milk & dairy products),
· plant (vegetables, seeds & nuts like avocado),
also in foods such as:
· pies, cakes, chocolates, fries, desert with cream, butter on bread, dressing on salad (hidden/added fats)
· all sorts of fats can be added during commercial or home preparation or at the table.
There are also essential and nonessential fatty acids. The body can create nonessential fatty acids by converting amino acids from the foods we eat. However, the body cannot create essential fatty acids, where the name “essential”; It can only get them directly from the food we eat. The human body cannot synthesized essential fatty acids and they must be supplied in the diet. Essential fatty acids (FAs) are a type of “unsaturated” fatty acids. Only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans, both are of the unsaturated fatty acids type: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid, n-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid, n-6). Symptoms of a deficiency of essential fatty acids include a dry, cracked, scaly, bleeding skin. Although the deficiency is quite rare, some individuals can still suffer from it, especially individual
· with a severe untreated fat malabsorption
· suffering from famine.
Essential fatty acids are important; they play a key role in various bodily functions, including heart health, cognitive function, and skin health.
Good and ‘Bad’ Fats, Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats.
To better understand the role fats play in supporting the body’s health, let’s have a closer look at the two types of dietary fats: saturated and unsaturated. The main health issue with dietary fats is how they influence our blood cholesterol levels.
Most nutritional institutions recommend consuming more unsaturated (monounsaturated fatty acids – MUFA and polyunsaturated fatty acids – PUFA) food sources while cutting down on foods rich in saturated fats, meaning more plant based fats (rapeseed, avocado & olive oil for example) and no to butter and lards.
Saturated fats, often labelled “bad” fats, are primarily found in animal products like beef, pork, and high-fat dairy foods, like butter, cream, and cheese. High amounts of saturated fat are also found in many fast, processed, and baked foods like desserts, burgers, and cookies and pastries. Consuming high amounts of saturated fat produces more LDL Low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol), which can result in the formation of plaque in the arteries, leading to blocked arteries, elevated blood pressure and making an individual more likely to have heart problems or a stroke.
In comparison, the unsaturated fats help to raise levels of HDL High-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol). HDL picks up excess LDL in the blood and moves it to the liver, where it is broken down and discarded.
Unsaturated fats, labelled as the healthier fats can be divided to two types: monounsaturated MUFA and polyunsaturated PUFA; Monounsaturated fats are found in plants such as olives and avocados; nuts like peanuts, almonds and pecans; seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. It is also in plant oils, such as olive, peanut, safflower, and sesame oils. In contrast, polyunsaturated fats PUFA include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and plant-based oils like soybean, corn, and safflower oils, and abundant in seeds like flaxseeds and sunflower seeds.
Nutritional studies revealed that the Mediterranean diet contains relatively high amounts of MUFAs such as olives, nuts and olive oil. Some studies reported MUFAs are cardioprotective and individuals consuming the Mediterranean diet generally have lower rates of heart disease. It is important to note these diets are also higher in fish, vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products. MUFAs may also have other health benefits.
In a longitudinal study on aging with 5632 Italian participants, it was reported that the higher an individual’s MUFA consumption is, the lower the likelihood for developing age-related cognitive decline (a mild deterioration in memory), therefore, MUFAs are good for the brain too.
In regards to PUFAs, they are important to good health too and include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Some benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet include:
● Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
● Reduced risk of blood clots because omega-3 fatty acids help prevent blood platelets from clumping together.
● Less inflammation.
All in all, it’s true that eating large amounts of fried foods and other “fatty” foods can lead to weight gain and cause health problems such as cardiovascular diseases. However, the body needs adequate amounts of good dietary fats, the unsaturated fatty acids type, while cutting down on saturated fats. Practical applications of this means avocado on toast, a handful of nuts as an afternoon snack, using an oil brush or oil spray to apply some olive oil to chicken breasts and vegetables.
Fats have a number of important functions. They provide most of the energy required to fuel muscular work and also serves as an emergency fuel supply in times of illness and diminished food intake. Internally, fats protect the internal organs from shock through fat pads inside the body cavity and also provide insulation against temperature extremes through a fat layer under the skin.
Chemically, fatty acids have a wide variety of commercial applications. For example, omega-3 fatty acids are commonly sold as dietary supplements. Other fatty acids are used in the production of numerous food products but also used in the production of soaps, detergents, and cosmetics products. Fatty acids make excellent emulsifying agents, some skin-care products contain fatty acids, which can help maintain a healthy skin appearance.
Please note the information provided here should not take place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your healthcare providers (doctor, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in and questions about what may be best for your overall health.