Saturated and unsaturated fats. What are they?
7th October, 2020
Fats are essential to the body. But… Are all fats the same? We explain the differences between saturated fats/unsaturated fats, so you know how to follow a balanced and healthy diet.
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fats are, at the molecular level, fatty acids that do not contain double bonds. They are fats that remain in a solid state at room temperature, and that provide, like all fats, 9 kilo calories per gram.
They come mostly from animal foods, but some plant foods such as palm oil or coconut oil also contain high concentrations of these fats.
Its main function, like the rest of the fats we provide to the body is to obtain energy, and help maintain the appearance of the skin and hair, in addition to allowing the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E or K).
Saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol levels and thus increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, its consumption should not exceed 10% of total calories. This means that, if our diet is 2000 kcal, only 200 should come from this saturated fat. If every gram produces 9 kcal, we should not take more than 22 grams of saturated fat.
Foods with saturated fats
The foods that provide the most saturated fats are:
- Beef, pork, and chicken.
- Oily fish.
- Whole milk products (milk, yoghurt, cheese…)
- Coconut and palm oil.
They are fatty acids that have one or more double bonds of their carbon chain. That’s why they can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. At room temperature they are usually in a liquid state. They also provide 9 kcal per gram.
They’re called “good fats” because:
- The help reduce cholesterol levels. LDL and increase HDL cholesterol.
- They protect the heart and arteries.
- Reduce discomfort in people suffering from arthritis.
- They help the central nervous system to function optimally.
Monounsaturated fatty acids have a single double bond, are liquids at room temperature, and can lower total and LDL cholesterol when they partially replace saturated fatty acids. The main monounsaturated acid is oleic acid, present in olive oil. We also find this fat in avocado, olives, nuts and other oils.
Polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, have more than a double bond, are found in foods of vegetable origin (seed oils, nuts …) but also in some animals such as fish and shellfish and are essential components of cell membranes. They are called “essential” because the organism is not able to synthesize them and we must introduce them through the diet.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are divided into:
- Omega 6(linoleic acid and arachidonic acid) present in oils and seeds
- Omega 3(linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) present in seeds, cereals, fish and shellfish. They are considered cardio-protective because of their anti-aggregating and vasodilating action, and their effect on blood pressure reduction and thrombosis. They prevent the appearance of cardiovascular diseases, arrhythmia and sudden death. They lower the level of bad cholesterol or LDL and slightly increase the good cholesterol or HDL.
What are TRANS fats?
TRANS fats are unsaturated fats, with double bonds in the TRANS position, which have been industrially transformed to obtain solid fats. To this end, they have been partially hydrogenated. This process makes the oils more stable, less oxygenated and easier to handle.
The World Health Organization warns that only 1% of all fats should belong to this group, as the hydrogenation process causes these fats to behave as if they were saturated, increasing the risk of forming atheromatous plaques on artery walls. In addition, they tend to be part of very caloric foods, so they can lead to excess weight and obesity.
Foods with Trans fats
- Pre-cooked frozen foods.
- Industrial pastries and biscuits.
- Snack food.
- Pizzas, hamburgers.
- Fried and breaded foods.
- Ice cream
- Cakes, pies.
Fats are necessary for the proper functioning of the body, but remember that they should not exceed 30-35% of your daily calorie intake. And don’t stop exercising with awaken to help burn them and keep them from building up.