Fat, its a Good Thing
For year, misinformation and ineffective communication between nutritional scientists and the public resulted in fear and avoidance of dietary fats, especially in Western Societies (1). Unfortunately, this has resulted in major negative consequences leading to increased manufacturing and consumption of refined carbohydrates, decreased consumption of nutrient-dense food options rich in healthful fats and a subsequent increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and obesity (2). But, the reality is that fats are an essential part of the human diet and should be celebrated, not feared!
Back to Basics: Fats and Fatty Acids
Fats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with their own unique qualities. They play an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, hormonal signaling, insulating organs, cell membrane structure, and more. Understanding the differences can help balance the dietary needs of a diet to support good overall health. Most dietary fats are present in the form of triglycerides which are molecules that consist of a glycerol and three fatty acid chains which can be a combination of saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated/ In general, understanding the differences in the fatty acid portions of dietary fat is beleived to be a more important area of focus versus the general fat content of the food.
Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fatty acids exist when there are no double bonds among the carbon chain. In other words, the carbons are “saturated” with hydrogen bonds. These types of fatty acids are very stable and are usually in a solid form at room temperature and less suceptible to heat damage, making them ideal for cooking purposes. These fatty acids have an important bioligical role in regulating gene expression (3) and may have anti-viral activities as well (4). Saturated fatty acids also play a role in cholesterol balance, and intake of these nutrients may need to be monitored in some people.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) exist when there is a single double bond within the carbon chain resulting in a kink of the chain and allow the fat to fluid. These fatty acids are found in both plant products and animal-based products such as milk and eggs. The benefits of MUFA have been linked to weight management and cardiovascular health (5)
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) exist when there are two or more double bonds within the carbon chain making these fatty acids highlighy fluid in nature explaining their important roles in membrane development and hormonal signaling. Recently, there has been increased attention towards the Omega-3, Omega-6 and Conjugated linoleic (CLA) polyunsaturated fatty acids due to their importance in improving the health status of current modern societies, especially in areas of inflammatory diseases and cancer prevention (6).
- Liu, A. G., Ford, N. A., Hu, F. B., Zelman, K. M., Mozaffarian, D., and Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition journal, 16(1), 53.
- Austin, G.L., Ogde, L.G., and Hil,l J.O. (2011) Trends in carbohydrate, fat, and protein intakes and association with energy intake in normal-weight, overweight, and obese individuals: 1971-2006. Am J Clin Nutr.93(4):836–43.
- Smith, J. G.,Yokoyama, W.H., and German, J.B. (1998). Butyric acid from the diet: actions at the level of gene expression. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. 38: 259-297.
- German, J. B., and Dillard, C.J.. (2004). Saturated fats: what dietary intake? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 80:550-559.
- Schwingshackl, L., and Hoffman, G. (2012). Monounsaturated fatty acids and risk of cardiovascular disease: synopsis of the evidence available from systemic reviews and meta-analyses. Nutrients. 12: 1989-2007.
- Simopoulous, A.P. (2006) Evolutional aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ration and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomed. Pharmacother. 60: 502-507.