Learning About The Good And The Bad Fats Is Life Saving!
Fats are an essential component of our nutrition.
Fats can be broadly classified as monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.
Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fats help lower cholesterol and help protect your heart.
The main sources of monounsaturated fats are groundnut oil, rice bran oil, sesame oil, olive oil, all nuts, including groundnuts and sesame.
Polyunsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats help improve your cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar levels, helping you get more heart-healthy.
They include the two omega fatty acids, viz. omega 3 and omega 6.
Omega 3 fatty acids: The principal sources of the invaluable omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts, flaxseed, fatty fish (ravas, mackerel or bangda, surmai, pomfret, cold-water salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and herring) and algae.
Of these, walnuts and flaxseeds provide us with plant source omega 3 (ALA), and the fish and algae provide us with the more effective sea source omega 3 (EPA and DHA).
The plant source omega 3 or ALA is less potent cardiac protector than the sea source omega 3 viz. DHA and EPA. Some of the ALA in our food gets converted to DHA and EPA, but at a slow speed.
The omega 3 fatty acids prevent the inflammatory process in the arteries that leads to atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and strokes and some cancers, memory loss, depression, and fatigue, reduce arthritis and joint pain, and inflammatory skin diseases.
Omega 6 fatty acids: Omega 6 fatty acids are abundantly available in safflower, sunflower seed, and soya oils and many other oils and foods. It is the more valuable omega 3 that is difficult to get as its sources are limited.
While omega 6 also helps lower cholesterol, it is less valuable than omega 3 in protecting you from heart disease and strokes and other inflammatory diseases.
Excess consumption of Omega 6 is easy in people subsisting on safflower seed oil (kardai), sunflower oil, or corn oil. Refined sunflower oil is widely used as the staple cooking oil in India. Excess consumption of omega 6 is dangerous and is best avoided. It can lead to raised blood pressure, blood clotting, heart attacks, and strokes and also leads to water retention.
Saturated fats: These fats are animal source fats viz. fats in dairy, flesh, and eggs and fats from certain vegetable oils which are solid at room temperature viz. coconut oil.
Saturated fats for decades were considered bad fats. They were thought to raise cholesterol in our body and cause heart disease and strokes. Researchers advised us to shun these fats.
But the thinking is changing now.
The jury is divided on these fats.
While the American Heart Association and the American Diabetic Association still strongly recommend against the use of saturated fats, many researchers don’t rate them as bad fats anymore.
Many studies have found no direct relationship of saturated fats with increased risk of heart disease.
Many studies have also found that people eating whole-fat dairy products are leaner and have lower levels of body fats.
This is probably due to the better satiety conferred by whole-fat dairy products, preventing people from overeating.
But if you run the risk of catching heart disease, it would be prudent to keep their consumption low, at least till more conclusive research tells us otherwise.
Trans fats: These fats are formed when vegetable oils are heated and combined with hydrogen. They are also called ‘vanaspati ghee’.
Hydrogenation makes the vegetable oils more stable and gives the foods made with them longer shelf life. They are also much cheaper than pure ghee.
Trans fats are also formed when foods are deep-fried. All fast food (Wada, samosa, burgers, pizzas), packaged foods (microwave popcorn, chips, crackers, candy), all commercially baked foods (bread, biscuits, Khari, rusks, cakes, pastries), all premix products like cake mix, all solid fats, all foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils are trans fats.
The is the jury on these fats is unanimous: Guilty!
They are universally accepted as bad fats, lowering the good ‘HDL’ cholesterol and increasing the bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol leading to heart disease and strokes and many other illnesses.
Even amongst saturated fats, the dairy and animal fats coming from natural pasture bred cattle are rated superior to the fats coming from farming industry animals raised on a doctored feed like corn, hormones, and medication. So there better and worse saturated fats too.
Overall, fats coming from natural foods are much better than packaged, processed foods like meats, fast foods and take away foods which are loaded with bad saturated fats and trans fats.
Fats in chips and french fries and all the fast-food snacks are bad fats.
In general, all deep-fried foods, even if fried in polyunsaturated oils, and foods prepared in hydrogenated vegetable oils are bad fats and researchers are telling us to shun them absolutely.
The omega 3 rich sea fish gives you the best fats as long as it is cooked in curries or baked or grilled or shallow fried.
But the same fats turn bad when the fish is deep-fried, as trans fats are formed in them.
The consensus amongst researchers is that trans fats are bad fats and they should be completely stopped.
Medium-chain triglycerides: The coconut fats include medium-chain triglycerides which are considered good fats.
They are considered to be anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerosis, and anti-aging fats and are heart-healthy.
They are also a ready source of energy and are extensively used as life-saving supplements for the weak and debilitated people, especially in hospital ICUs and in preterm, low birth weight babies.
Choosing Healthy Cooking Oil: Industry manufactured oils like soya oil, rice bran oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower seed oil (kardai), Canola oil, cottonseed oil are considered bad fats by many nutritionists. The use of heat and chemicals in extracting and refining these oils turns them unhealthy.
Today many researchers are asking us to shun all industrially produced oils.
So it makes sense to use groundnut oil, sesame oil for us in India and groundnut, and virgin olive oil for Indians in the west. All three are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and all three are cold-pressed.
There is little point buying expensive, imported olive oil in India. Groundnut oil or sesame oil, though the latter is not popularly used, would be the better choice as you don’t waste money and invaluable foreign exchange on imported olive oil. All three oils are principally comprised of monounsaturated fats.
How much fish is enough to get adequate omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA?
Adults should eat about 170 gm sea fish twice a week and children between the ages of 2 to 8 years between 40 to 85 gm and children over 9 years between 115 to 140 gm twice a week to get enough of the two omega 3 fatty acids.
Read the article ‘Basics Of Nutrition‘ on our website for more information about fats.