Fats- What’s the Difference

There are several different families of fats in our diets but the ones that deserve the most attention are called fatty acids. They are a long chain of carbons with an acid group at one end. They are only carbons and hydrogens with two oxygens at the end so they “burn” clean in the cells only producing carbon dioxide and water as waste. The three main kinds of these I will discuss are the unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats or as I like to call them the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hope to be able to tell you the differences without getting to technical.

Good: Unsaturated fats are mainly plant oils. They are liquids at room temperature and tend to spoil more quickly than saturated fats. They are missing one or more hydrogens which changes their shape and thus their activity in the body. The spot of the first missing hydrogen determines the type of fat they are called. If it is the third carbon from the end it is an Omega-3, if it is the sixth it is an Omega-6 and ninth is Omega-9. There are many different types of unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated only have one place they are missing hydrogen while polyunsaturated have multiple places they are missing hydrogen. The recommended amounts and sources of these will be covered later. Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce chances of cardiovascular disease.

Bad: Saturated fats are mainly animal fats. They are solids at room temperature and spoil more slowly than other fats. This makes them easy for cooking and storage. They are called saturated because they have two hydrogens on every carbon of the chain. Unfortunately for all of the bacon lovers they have consistently been linked with an increase in heart attack.

Ugly: Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically modified to be solid at room temperature and stay fresh longer. They seemed like a good idea when they were first invented. Margarine was seen as a healthy replacement for butter. However in large scale studies trans fats have proven to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and increase inflammation in the body. You should avoid them totally if possible.

Next I discuss the kinds of fats in the blood and what each means to you. Then I will give some sources of the kinds of fats and recommendations for how much you should eat. This is a highly debated topic in nutrition currently so I will try to give you the best information if not the latest cutting edge theory.