Tag Archives: unsaturated fat

Fats Explained: Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

fats explained

Whether you suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, Obesity, emotional eating, or have problems with weight management due to restricting or overeating, you need to know about what fats do in your body once and for all. In other words whether you are obese, underweight or a normal weight, if you are having problems regulating food intake in healthy ways, this series on fat is a must.

For decades, we have been told that saturated fats were unhealthy, and that they were the root cause of the epidemics of heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol in our society. What we know today is that saturated fats are not the problem. It is the polluted and/or processed version of saturated fats along with the overabundance of processed unsaturated fats that are causing the problems. Saturated fats such as grass-fed animal fats and coconut oil, which is mostly a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA) along with unsaturated Omega 3 fats and the naturally occurring trans-fat CLA, are exceptionally good, indeed, healing for the body. Whereas man-made trans-fats and vegetable or seed fats that have been hydrogenated are literally killing us.

So in a nutshell:

Good Fat = saturated grass-fed animal fat, coconut fat (medium chain fatty acid) and unsaturated Omega 3 fats, especially those from natural sources such as flax seed, salmon, walnuts and leafy greens. (See next in series for complete list)

Bad Fat = Unsaturated trans-fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable and seed fats that have been heated and/or hydrogenated.  Corn, soy, safflower, flax, cottonseed, canola, peanut, and sesame oils should be avoided either because they are innately unhealthy or because of the manner in which they have been processed.

Types of Fats

There are several ways to categorize fats: Saturated or unsaturated; Mono or polyunsaturated; Trans or non-transfat; and Short chain (SCFA), Medium chain (MCFA) and Long chain (LCFA). Among the monounsaturated and the polyunsaturated fats there are the Omega fats, which are divided into Essential (Omegas 3 and 6) and Non-Essential (Omega 5, 7, and 9) fatty acids.

Saturated vs Unsaturated Fat

Most fats are either saturated or unsaturated. There are over a dozen saturated fats, but we mainly consume Butyric, Palmiric, Myristic, Lauric and Stearic saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, also called the Omegas 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9 are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated and either essential or non-essential.

When an oil is saturated, it means that the molecule has all the hydrogen atoms it can hold.  Unsaturated means that there are spaces between some of the hydrogen atoms. This can be a problem, because opening the structure of the molecule makes it susceptible to attack by free radicals.

Free radicals damage healthy cells.  When unsaturated oils are exposed to free radicals through the process of hydrogenation, the cells in the oil age, and the oils can become rancid. Not only are they capable of becoming rancid in the jar in which they are stored, they may also become rancid in our bodies, which contributes to various cancers including skin cancer. In contrast, unrefined cold-pressed coconut oil, which is primarily a saturated medium chain fatty acid, does not become rancid, and never needs refrigeration, assuming that its structure has not been damaged by processing. (Always buy unrefined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils instead of the refined version.)

Characteristics of Healthy Saturated Fats

Saturated fats from grass-fed, raw or lightly pasteurized dairy (milk, cream, butter, cheese, cottage cheese) grass-fed/grass-finished beef, pastured pork and poultry (that are fed non-GMO grains and are usually organic) coconut and palm kernel oil and cacao have the following health benefits:

  • Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of cell membranes. They give cells their necessary stiffness and integrity.
  • Saturated fats play a vital role in the health of bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated.
  • Saturated fats lower lipoprotein – A substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.
  • Saturated fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins.
  • Saturated fats enhance the immune system.
  • Saturated fats are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Specifically, omega-3 essential fatty acids are better retained in the tissue when the diet is rich in saturated fats.

Unsaturated Fats (for the geeks)

Unlike the saturated fats that have a single bond between carbon atoms, monounsaturated fats have a single double bond between carbon atoms while polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds between carbon atoms. Unsaturated fats are primarily made up of the Omega fatty acids 3,5,6,7, and 9. (Trans-fats are also unsaturated. Stay tuned for our article on Trans Fats.)

Stay tuned for part 2 of this four part series.  In Part 2 we’ll talk about Omega Fatty Acids.

Updated on Aug 5 2013.

Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED) and the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship. This information is not necessarily the position of Dr. J. Renae Norton or The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity.

©2013, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible. Please credit ‘© 2013, Dr J Renae Norton. http://edpro.wpengine.com’.

Source: The Skinny on Fats

The Skinny on Fat [Show Notes]

GMOs, Eating Disorders, ObesityIn this weeks episode we talked about dietary fat. Is a low-fat diet really as healthy as we are led to believe? Are all fats bad? What types of fats should we avoid? What types of fats are the healthiest?

Listen to internet radio with Eating Disorder Pro on Blog Talk Radio

In this episode we covered:

0:00 – Introduction
3:40 – Saturated Fat: Coconut Oil
5:28 – What are Saturated Fatty Acids?
5:45 – What are Unsaturated Fatty Acids?
6:05 – Is Saturated Fat Unhealthy?
6:45 – Short-chain, Medium-chain, Long-chain, and Very long-chain Fatty Acids
7:40 – Caller Question – What is healthier butter or margarine?
12:40 – Short-chain, Medium-chain, Long-chain, and Very long-chain Fatty Acids
17:54 – Sources of Saturated Fat
18:54 – What oils are the healthiest?
19:20 – What is the role of fatty acids?
19:55 – What are Trans-Fats, Partially Hydrogenated Oils?
20:52 – Caller Question – What is healthier skim milk or whole milk?
27:40 – What are some sources of trans-fats?
28:25 – What are some other names for trans-fats?
29:17 – Why are trans-fats used?
30:05 – Food labelling – Low Fat, Fat Free, Reduced Fat, Light, Lean, Extra Lean
33:30 – How to choose healthy milk
36:40 – What are the best cooking oils?

Links we discussed:

The Benefits of Butter
CLA and Trans-fats
Cooking Oils, Explained.
The Disadvantages of Low Fat Milk.
How to Choose Healthy Milk.
Free Lifestyle Handbook.
The Best Source for Fermented Cod Liver Oil.

Show Summary

Saturated fat is fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. (A triglyceride is a combination of a glycerol and 3 fatty acids) Saturated fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms that are fully “saturated” with hydrogen. They have no double bonds. Unsaturated fat consists of fatty acids that do have double bonds.

So, Fatty acids that have double bonds are known as unsaturated. Fatty acids without double bonds are known as saturated. For many years we were told that saturated fats were dangerous and that fats like canola oil were good for us….wrong!

Fatty Acids also differ in length.

Fatty acid chains differ by length as well as in saturation.  This is important because most of us have been told that saturated fat is bad and that unsaturated fat is good.  In fact, the length of the fat may be even more important.

Length is categorized as short to very long

  • Short Chain fatty acids (SCFA) are (always saturated) fatty acids tails of fewer than six carbons. Found mostly in butter fat from cows or goats. (microbes good for immune systems)
  • (MCFA) are fatty acids tails of 6–12 carbons, which can form medium-chain triglycerides. Found in coconut fat
     
  • Long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) (Saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) are fatty acids with tails 13 to 21carbons.  Found in beef, olive oil, black current oil
  • Very long chain fatty acids (VLCFA) (Highly unsaturated) are fatty acids with tails longer than 22 carbons. Found in Fish oil (EPA, DHA) very important in the functioning of the nervous system.

Short and Medium chain fatty acids do not store as fat in human beings, whereas, long and very long chain fatty acids do.

Unlike other fatty acids, MCFA are absorbed directly from the intestines into the portal vein and sent straight to the liver where they are, for the most part, burned as fuel much like a carbohydrate. In this respect they act more like carbohydrates than like fats.2

Other fats require pancreatic enzymes to break them into smaller units. They are then absorbed into the intestinal wall and packaged into bundles of fat and protein called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are carried by the lymphatic system, bypassing the liver, and then dumped into the bloodstream, where they are circulated throughout the body. As they circulate in the blood, their fatty components are distributed to all the tissues of the body. The lipoproteins get smaller and smaller, until there is little left of them. At this time they are picked up by the liver, broken apart, and used to produce energy or, if needed, repackaged into other lipoproteins and sent back into the bloodstream to be distributed throughout the body. Cholesterol, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat are all packaged together into lipoproteins and carried throughout the body in this way.

In contrast, medium and short-chain fatty acids are not packaged into lipoproteins but go straight to the liver where they are converted into energy. Ordinarily they are not stored to any significant degree as body fat.

Short and Medium-chain fatty acids produce energy. Other dietary fats produce body fat.

Various fats contain different proportions of saturated and unsaturated fat. Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat include animal fats such as cream, cheese, butter, and ghee; suet, tallow, lard, and fatty meats; as well as certain vegetable products such as coconut oil, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, chocolate, and many prepared foods. Although cottonseed oil is high in saturated fat, it should be avoided due to the fact that it is genetically modified.

In particular, heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids. The brain cannot use fatty acids as a source of fuel; it relies on glucose or ketone bodies.

Trans fats

Trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.  Another name for trans fats is “partially hydrogenated oils.”  Look for them on the ingredient list on food packages.

Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.  Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.  It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Trans fats can be found in many foods – but especially in fried foods like French fries and doughnuts, and baked goods including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, crackers, and stick margarines and shortenings.  You can determine the amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel.  You can also spot trans fats by reading ingredient lists and looking for the ingredients referred to as “partially hydrogenated oils.”

Small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb and butterfat.  It isn’t clear; though, whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.

Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they’re easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time.  Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture.  Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers.

What exactly does Low Fat Mean?

Fat Free –  Less than 0.5g of fat per serving

XX% Fat Free – Must also meet the low fat claim (below)

Low Fat – 3g or less per serving; or 3g per 100g for a meal or main dish, and 30% of total calories or less

Reduced Fat  – 25% less fat than food it is being compared to

Low Saturated Fat – 1g or less and 15% or less of calories from saturated fat

Light/Lite – 50% less fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product

Lean – Less than 10g of fat, 4.5g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood

Extra Lean – Less than 5g of fat, 2g of saturated fat and 95mg of cholesterol per serving and per 100g of meat, poultry or seafood.

Low Cholesterol – 20mg or less per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving

Cholesterol Free – Less than 2mg per serving and 2g or less saturated fat per serving

Less Cholesterol – 25% or less than the food it is being compared to, and 2g or less saturated fat per serving

Low Calorie – 40 calories or less per serving

Let’s Connect!

Like me on Facebook

Twitter @drrenae

Contact Dr Norton by phone 513-205-6543 or by form

Inquire about booking Dr Norton for a speaking engagement

Read About Dr Norton

View video about Dr Norton

Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.

© 2012, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible. Please credit ‘© 2012, Dr J Renae Norton. http://edpro.wpengine.com’