Fats and Health

By: Ihsan Kishi

‘Fat is unhealthy. Avoid eating it, as much as possible.’ This is often heard; however, how true is this? There is a disconnect between how society and the scientific community view the consumption of fats. The work of scientists has helped us broaden our understanding regarding the relationship between fat intake and health. Many of us avoided fats because we heard that they were detrimental to our lifestyle However, that did not contribute significantly to health because scientists did not classify fats according to how nutritious they were. In reality, some types of fats are necessary but the majority of the public gave up on consuming any of them. There are four types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, trans and polyunsaturated. For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Beneficial fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Detrimental ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle. (Harvard Medical School, 2015)

Why fats are important to humans:


Firstly, fats are essential for humans and our body needs some fat for functioning. It is a major source of energy for humans. It helps to absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is also needed for essential needs of cells such as building cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and preventing inflammation (Harvard Medical School, 2015). Every fat is similar to each other in terms of structure: all of them have carbon atoms linked to hydrogen atoms. The difference between fats is the length and shape of the carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms linked to the carbon atoms. Even though they are similar, that little difference in structure makes significant differences in the health effects of the fats.


What is unhealthy about eating fats?

Trans Fats are certainly bad for human health and due to their harmful effects, they are banned in the US. Trans fats are products of hydrogenation, which is a process which turns healthy oils into solid for preventing it turning into something rancid. In the 20th century, they were mainly found in margarine and vegetable shortenings (Harvard Medical School, 2015). Trans Fat rich foods increase bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of good cholesterol (HDL). The higher bad (LDL) cholesterol you have, the greater chance of getting heart disease you have because it builds upon the walls of your arteries, and HDL protects your heart by taking the bad cholesterol (LDL) out of your blood and prevents LDL building upon your artery walls. According to the research of Harvard Medical School, for every 2% of calories from trans fats consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%. They also create inflammation in the body which is catastrophic for our health. Trans fats are associated with developing type 2 diabetes in where your body cannot use your insulin properly. To sum up, Trans fats have a lot of unhealthy things about them from increasing the risk of heart disease to developing type 2 diabetes and should be avoided as much as possible.

Health benefits of Saturated fats stand as somewhere in between since science has not found any evidence on bothin both sides

Saturated fats are somewhere in between: they are neither completely bad nor good. They are pretty common in our daily diet such as butter. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, coconut oil, whole milk and dairy products made out of it, and many commercially prepared baked goods and other foods which are solid at room temperature. The Harvard University researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 21 recent studies that are research for the relation between saturated fats and heart disease. In the meta-analysis, they did not find any bad relation between them but they observed that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats reduced the risk of heart disease. Due to the inherent nature of saturated fats driving up the total cholesterol in the body, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day (Harvard Medical School, 2015).


What is healthy about fats?

Monounsaturated fats are absolutely good for human health. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils. They are liquid at room temperature. The Seven Countries Study during the 1960s revealed that people in Mediterranean regions had the lower risk of heart diseases. The main fat in their diet (Mediterranean) was olive oil which is one of the good sources of monounsaturated fats. This research revealed a direct relationship between being healthy and eating olive oil which is monounsaturated fat. Good fats do balance your hormones, keep you full and give energy to your brain without any side effects. To sum up, monounsaturated fats are the healthiest fats that you can possibly eat along with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, especially olive oil, reduces the risk of heart disease.

Polyunsaturated fats are essential for human health. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Common sources of polyunsaturated fats are fish, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and some nuts. Eating polyunsaturated fats instead of other types of fats, which are harmful or somewhere in the middle, reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), improves cholesterol profiles overall, and it lowers triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides in the blood may contribute to atherosclerosis which is hardening of the arteries. Because of this, high triglyceride levels may increase the risk of getting heart disease or heart attack (healthline.com). Omega-6 fatty acids are linked to protection against heart diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and treat heart diseases, reducing blood pressure and raising good cholesterol (HDL) as well as lowering triglycerides. According to a systematic review of the evidence by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, omega-3 health benefits are not limited to everything mentioned, but also helps to reduce the risk of dementia. Memory loss is a symptom of dementia. To sum up, eating polyunsaturated fats is the best option to be healthy along with monounsaturated fats because it reduces LDL and triglycerides which are directly linked to developing heart disease due to hardening of the arteries or building something upon the walls of your arteries.

How would I choose my daily intake of fats after learning all this information about fats? According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. from mayoclinic.org, one should get 35% of his/her daily calories from fats. I will try to go with a Mediterranean diet as much as possible for my diet which also involves not eating saturated fats whenever possible. In my mediterranean diet, I will eat fish instead of beef and chicken, whole grains instead of refined grains, extra virgin olive oil and avocados instead of refined oils and margarine. I will try to consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as much as possible to replace saturated and trans fats in my diet, which is also a recommendation of the Institute of Medicine.


Sources:

1-PASQUALE, Neka. “Types Of Fats & Understanding The Difference.” Urban Remedy, Urban Remedy, 3 Dec. 2017, urbanremedy.com/fats-real-skinny-healthy-fats-harmful-fats/.

2-Zeratsky, Katherine, et al. “Here's an Easy Way to Track Fat in Your Diet.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 30 Jan. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/fat-grams/faq-20058496.

3-Lockett, Eleesha. “Low Triglycerides: High LDL, Diet, Symptoms, Dangers, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 26 Nov. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/low-triglycerides.

4-“The Truth about Fats: the Good, the Bad, and the in-Between.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, Feb. 2015, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good.

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