Over the years there has been so much negative information released to the public, it is a challenge to know the truth about fats. Fats are one of the primary components that our bodies require in order to function properly. Within our bodies — our brain, heart, lungs, liver, bones, cells and our immune system — all require healthy fats in order to function at their peak performance. According to Barbara O’Neill, nutritionist, naturopath and author of Self-Healing by Design, “our bodies consist of 45 percent saturated, 50 percent monounsaturated and 5 percent polyunsaturated fats.” Every cell in our bodies requires saturated fats for it to grow properly and to provide maintenance and repair for all our bodies’ tissues. To have a better understanding about fats, let’s take a deeper look at their physical makeup.
“Fats are compounds made up of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon and belong to a group of substances called lipids. Lipids have 3 basic forms, which are all found in some combination in most foods.
Triglycerides — includes fats and account for about 95 percent of the weight of fats in foods. Fatty acids are components of triglycerides and are the simplest forms of fat.
- Phospholipids — which act as emulsifiers that break up fats.
- Sterols — the most well known of which is cholesterol.
- Fats are a common name for triglycerides and can be split up into two groups:
- Saturated fats
- Unsaturated fats — which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can be further split into fatty acids.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Omega-6 fatty acids”
This may sound complicated, but hang in there with me. When you understand some of the science behind fats, it tends to make more sense.
The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats comes down to the number of hydrogen atoms they contain. Unsaturated fats have one or more double bonds in their fatty acid chain. Where there are double bonds, the hydrogen atom has been eliminated. So with monounsaturated fats they have one double bond; with polyunsaturated fats they have two or more double bonds. The difference between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is the number of double bonds they contain, which makes them more fluid than a saturated fat. Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen atoms; this causes them to stick together, which makes them more solid.
Now let’s take a look at the best sources of this complex essential nutrient. For polyunsaturated fats, the highest plant-based sources (omega-3s) would be: flax seeds and chia seeds. Also included in the polyunsaturated fat group would be hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, soybeans (organic and non-GMO) sesame oil and sunflower oil. For monounsaturated fats, the best sources would be to incorporate olives, almonds and avocados into your lifestyle. For saturated fats, the best sources would be coconut oil, palm oil and organic butter.
On the flip side, hydrogenated or trans-fats are not healthy for us. The only positive attribute they provide is a longer shelf life. These fats are not natural for the body as they are created in a laboratory. They undergo a process where hydrogen is added to the unsaturated vegetable oils, which creates a partially or fully hydrogenated fat or trans-fat. Because they are not natural, our bodies are not able to metabolize them, which causes them to be stored as toxins in our fat cells. This creates all kinds of unhealthy havoc within our bodies!
My hope is that I have helped you to better understand the important role fats play in your body and which fats you should incorporate so that you can function at your peak potential!
Reference: “Nutrition 101: Choose Life.” Debra Raybern et al.