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Good Healthy Fats: Is Polyunsaturated Fat Bad for You?

polyunsaturated fat foods
Eating a moderate amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat instead of saturated and trans fat can be beneficial to your health.

Consumption of polyunsaturated fat in moderation is considered beneficial to the body compared to consuming trans and saturated fat. Fats are an important source of energy, help absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, and protect the health of principal organs, such as the heart and brain. Not all fats are the same.

Fats in food naturally come in different forms, such as unsaturated and saturated fats. Hydrogenation of fats produces trans fats. Total fat includes all varieties of fats, such as polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans fats.

What is fat?

Fat is an essential nutrient required for various physiological processes, such as hormones and vitamin D synthesis. It is found in almost all varieties of food, with rich sources of it contained in milk, meat and oil groups. It is also found in fried, baked and pre-packaged foods.

It was once considered healthy to consume a fat-free diet, but recent studies have stated that consumption of unsaturated fats in moderation is very useful for the heart, proper growth of the body and keeping the body healthy.

Other major roles of fat in the body include:

  • Sources of energy
  • Sources of essential fatty acids that cannot be made by the body
  • Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are absorbed only by the influence of fats
  • Fats are a major component of maintaining the integrity of cell walls
  • Insulates bodies
  • Acts as shock absorbers and protects internal organs
  • Required for synthesis of steroid hormones as well as vitamin D

Even though fat is essential for the body, it contains more calories when compared to carbohydrates. Therefore, it is prudent to be vigilant of the quantity and type of fat consumed.

The body burns the necessary amount of fats to generate energy and stores the extra fat in tissues, resulting in weight gain. It is recommended to consume good fats in moderation and skip consumption of bad fats to lose or maintain body weight. Fat plays a role in the prevention or delaying of type II diabetes and good fats are considered healthy for the heart.

What are good or healthy fats?

Unsaturated fats are considered as good or healthy fats because they improve the health of vital organs and subsequently improve the health of the body. Consumption of good fats in place of saturated and trans fats benefits the body by lowering cholesterol levels. Good fats are in liquid form at room temperature but turn solid at low temperatures.

Different varieties of good fats include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats

  • Simple fat molecules that contain more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecules
  • Found in plant-based and animal foods that include
    • Vegetable oils, such as olive, safflower and sunflower oil
    • Nuts, such as walnuts
    • Seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and flaxseeds
    • Soybeans and tofu
    • Fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and trout
    • Fish oil
  • Polyunsaturated fats are of two types

Monounsaturated fats

  • Simple fat molecules that contain one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecules
  • Found in plant-based foods that include
    • Avocados
    • Nuts
    • Peanut butter
    • Vegetable oils, such as canola, olive, peanut, sesame and safflower oil
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant present in oils rich in monounsaturated fats
  • Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have similar beneficial properties that include:
  • Good fats lower bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein or LDL, and increase good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein or HDL
  • Formation of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) could be prevented when LDL levels decrease in the body, lowering the risk of heart diseases and stroke
  • Good fats lower triglycerides levels that are associated with heart disease
  • They fight inflammation
  • They help develop and maintain healthy cells
  • They provide satiety and reduce binge-eating behavior

What are bad or unhealthy fats?

Unhealthy fats increase the levels of bad cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein, and at high levels, they may increase the risk of heart disease and cause other health problems. This does not mean you have to totally refrain from bad fats from your diet. However, limiting their consumption is recommended.

Different varieties of bad fats include saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats

  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, so they are called “solid fat”
  • Found in animal foods, such as milk, cheese and meat
  • However, fish and poultry have less saturated fats than red meat
  • Found in tropical oils, such as cocoa butter, coconut and palm oil
  • Desserts made with butter or margarine contains lots of saturated fat

Trans fats

  • Hydrogenation is a process that increases the shelf life of fat and converts ordinary fat into trans fat
  • However, low levels of trans fat may be present naturally in certain foods
  • These fats remain solid and hard at room temperatures
  • Trans fats increase cholesterol levels, so it is recommended to limit the consumption of foods that contain more trans fats, such as
    • Processed foods
    • Cookies and other bakery products
    • Snacks, such as crackers and chips
    • Foods made with hydrogenated oils and shortening
    • Margarine and salad dressings

It is important to focus on limiting your fat intake irrespective of the type. Limiting this intake is essential for overall weight balance. Furthermore, reducing your intake of foods with saturated and trans fats, in particular, helps build up a healthy body.

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