In this series of articles you will learn about the importance of fat for optimal health, the different types of fat, what you should eat and what to avoid in order to stay strong, healthy and free.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is fat?
- 2 What are Cholesterol, HDL and LDL?
- 3 The role of fat in the body
- 4 The 4 types of Fat:
What is fat?
Fat is composed of fatty acids. Fatty acids are, in turn, made from the molecules of carbohydrates and especially hydrogen and oxygen. The length and composition of these molecules determines the type of fatty acid and therefore the type of fat as we know it.
Before we check out the types of fat, it would be good to take a look at the different type of lipids so that we can understand things better.
What are Cholesterol, HDL and LDL?
Cholesterol is a fat-soluble, colorless liquid found in animals but not plants. Despite the fact that it has been blamed for all evils in the modern world, it remains a must for optimal hormone health in both men and women as it is the precursor molecule of testosterone and progesterone hormones.
In order to properly produce hormones it is of the highest importance to maintain a good percentage of cholesterol (HDL) in our body. Low cholesterol levels can be just as harmful for one’s health as high cholesterol levels.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): This type of cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol. The aim should be to have increased HDL levels as they can protect against heart disease and inflammation.
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): This type of cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol. The aim is to keep it as low as possible as elevated levels lead to heart disease, stroke and high inflammation levels in the body.
Other types of fats:
- Glycerol is a colorless liquid component of fats. (you will find this in most protein bars – and it is animal-derived)
- Triglycerides (TG): These are fats that have three fatty acids attached to the glycerol molecule. Elevated levels of TG are linked with heart disease.
The role of fat in the body
Fats are essential for radiant health as they help with energy production, cell creation, oxygen transport, blood clotting, hormonal balance and health by producing prostaglandins.
Proper fat intake is needed for:
- absorption of fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D E and K)
- nerve conduction,
- protection of the nervous system
- insulation and regulating body temperature
- cushioning of vital organs
- athletic performance
- building muscle
- optimal mental performance and sustaining cognitive processes (since the brain is 60% fat).
For example, Omega-3s are important for brain function, immunity, skin, eye and heart health while Omega-6 are necessary for growth and development.
Saturated fat is also VERY important despite the bad rep that it has been given in the last 50 years. It is actually required to make cholesterol which in turn is needed for proper hormonal balance (as it converts to testosterone in men and progesterone in women). I have a separate blog post coming soon on how it is not the demon that everyone wants you to believe it is.
The 4 types of Fat:
- Saturated Fat or SFAs,
- Non-essential fatty acids which include Monounsaturated FAT or MUFAs,
- Essential Fatty acids or EFAs which include Polyunsaturated FAT or PUFAs,
- Trans Fat.
Out of these types, EFAs and the non-essential fatty acids are the only ones that are considered “heart-healthy.”
It should be noted that none of the fats are 100% saturated or unsaturated. The distinction is only based on the majority of the fat content of each food. For example, some fats contain omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 but because they have more omega 6, they are called omega 6 fats.
Let’s take a small look in each one of these categories.
Saturated Fat or SFA:
In this fatty molecule there is one hydrogen atom for each carbon atom. These fats tend to solidify at room temperature like butter and animal fats etc.
I cover Saturated Fats and their importance for our health and well-being in part 5 of this article series which can be found here.
There are 2 types of Trans Fats:
Trans fat are dangerous, have no nutritional value or place in a healthy diet and should be avoided. I elaborate more on the different types and dangers of trans-fat in this article found here.
Non-Essential Fatty acids or Monounsaturated FAT (MUFA) and Omega 9:
The separation of fatty acids is based on both their molecular structure and the body’s dependence on them.
This category is deemed as non-essential as the body can produce it on its own but it still has benefits for our health and should be included in our diet.
How MUFAs looks like:
In its molecule, there are less hydrogen atoms than carbon ones and in this case, there is 1 hydrogen missing (“mono” meaning one). These fats tend to stay liquid at room temperature.
Omega 9 fatty acids are a type of monounsaturated fats and their name comes from their chemical bond as they have a double bond in the 9th position of the omega molecule.
Oleic acid is the primary Omega 9 which is found in vegetable oils (olive oil and sunflower oil), Fruits (avocados and olives) and also in Nuts (almonds, cashews, macadamia, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts).
Benefits of Omega 9s:
The most important benefits of Omega 9s for our health include:
- protecting us against metabolic syndrome and reducing cardiovascular risk factors by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol (the exact opposite of what trans-fat do),
- lowering cholesterol levels (by properly converting cholesterol to testosterone in men and progesterone in women),
- increasing insulin sensitivity,
- lowering inflammation,
- improving immune system health,
- protecting heart health.
Great Omega 9 sources:
For your omega 9 intake choose:
- extra virgin olive oil,
- nuts such as macadamia, almonds and cashews.
As you can see so far in the first article of the series, you want to make sure you eat this macronutrient for optimal health and vitality. In the next part I cover the EFAs and especially the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Until then, stay strong, healthy and free!
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by Nick Sigma SHF
C.W.C, E.H, E-YRT200
- Gillingham LG, Harris-Janz S, Jones PJ. “Dietary monounsaturated fatty acids are protective against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease risk factors“. Lipids. 2011; 46(3):209-228.
- Lands, William E.M. (December 2005). “Dietary fat and health: the evidence and the politics of prevention: careful use of dietary fats can improve life and prevent disease.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1055: 179-192. Blackwell. doi:10.1196/annals.1323.028. PMID 16387724.