Dietary Fats and Fatty Acids

Distinguishing Healthy Fats And Those That Cause Problems

We need to distinguish health promoting fats from those that can cause problems. High fat intake has always been blamed for a host of chronic problems like hypertension, obesity, heart disease and cancer. While curbing our total fat intake is important to stay fit and healthy, avoiding all fats brings its own set of problems.


When we think of fat, it is usually the visible waxy substance that is found in all animal body cells and also spreads of butter and margarine. We usually try to avoid them by choosing fat free food. However according to the latest government survey, the intake of saturated fats or 'bad fats" has decreased but the total fat intake has not changed for the past ten years. The same survey showed that consumption of a particular group of fatty acids, called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids was practically non existent. Polyunsaturated fats are considered to be "good fats" and are necessary for health maintenance.


Oils and fats are known as lipids and ranges from being soft and runny to very stiff. Oils are generally liquid at room, temperature and are more healthful. They are called unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated because of their molecular characteristics.


Monounsaturated oils are considered best for cooking, baking and use in dressings. Olive oil, peanut oil, some margarines, vegetables shortening and avocados are monounsaturated oils.


Polyunsaturated oils are more apt to turn rancid and must be stored very carefully. These include fish, seafood and vegetable oils. Oils contain fatty acids that the body converts into special forms needed for numerous body functions.


On the other hand, saturated fats are less healthful. They are solid at room temperature. Our bodies break down saturated fats and either store them for later use or convert them into energy. Saturated fats are difficult for the body to process into necessary components and are more likely to accumulate in arteries and promote several chronic diseases.


Most dietary oils come from seeds, leafy greens and sea vegetables. All these "good oils" supply essential fatty acids from three families: omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. Our body cannot manufacture the first two and we must get in from our diet. Omega-9 can be synthesized within the body and has many health benefits.

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