Coconut oil? Soybean oil? Margarine? Which oils should you be eating?
Once and for all, let’s get to the bottom of the issue: exactly which oils are good for you and which ones are you better of reducing or cutting out altogether?
Answer: saturated oils aren’t your best friends but unsaturated ones are. And stay away from TRANS FATS altogether.
So now let’s start from the top and decide what’s what
When we say “fats”, we’re referring to triglycerides. Now I could get into how TRI-GLYCERIDES looks like 3 glycerides (sort of how a tricycle has 3 tyres) but that would be opening a can of organic chemistry not many of you care for, so let me rather say they are a type of fat in your blood.
They are absorbed into your blood after you eat a fat-containing meal or your body converts extra calories from things like white flour, rice, alcohol and other carbohydrates into triglycerides/fat and stores these in fat (adipose) cells within your body.
It’s a substance made by your liver and intestines and that predominantly keeps your cell membranes (coverings) intact. It’s also a major building block for a lot of your hormones. It’s not equal to “fat” though both are lipids.
So then what are lipids?
Make it easy on yourself by telling yourself that lipids, just like proteins are vital biologic compounds that exist in nature.
So is cholesterol good or bad?
It depends on whether the cholesterol is going to your body cells or to your liver. The body transports cholesterol by coating it with a water-soluble “bubble” of protein. This protein-fat bubble is called a lipoprotein.
Low-density Lipoproteins (LDL) convey cholesterol to your body cells. Since this actually isn’t what we want and high levels of LDL is linked with heart disease, we call this type of “coated” cholesterol bad cholesterol.
On the other hand, High-density Lipoproteins (HDL) sort of mop the excess cholesterol in the system and send back to the liver for breakdown. This is good because the more HDL you have, the lower your risk of heart disease so we call that good cholesterol. From this description, it should be clear that LDL OR HDL isn’t actually in the food. It refers to how we find cholesterol in the blood.
As an aside, bear in mind that unlike fat, we can not burn off or exercise away cholesterol.
Fats and Oils
Now that we’ve bagged these, note that fats and oils are practically the same thing. The only difference is that, at room temperature, fats are solid whereas oils are liquid. Then also, “fat” generally refers to products of animal origin but “oils” are typically from plants.
Whether fats or oils though, there are 2 main types: SATURATED AND UNSATURATED.
Saturated implies that it’s links/bonds are “tightly packed” so you couldn’t fit another hydrogen in there, whereas unsaturated fats/oils aren’t as fully packed and so could make room for 1 or more hydrogens. The number of extra hydrogens an unsaturated fat can take on makes it either monounsaturated (only 1 hydrogen extra) polyunsaturated (more than 1 extra hydrogen).
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what the relevance of all this is to you. Well, the research so far has shown that the saturated ones aren’t as good for your heart and blood vessels as the unsaturated ones.
Current recommendations are that of the total amounts of calories you’re to eat in a day, just about 5-6% should be from saturated fats (see table below). Again, fats and oils should only make up a maximum of 25-35 % of your calories consumed daily.
Both unsaturated fat and saturated fat are equally energy-dense so the fact that the former is healthier doesn’t mean you should eat that in excess either, else you’ll still put on the weight you may be trying to avoid.
Unsaturated fats are collectively referred to as “healthy fats” because they do not appear to promote the formation of atherosclerosis, a waxy plaque that may build up in the arteries.
|Saturated fats||Monounsaturated fats||Polyunsaturated fats|
|Coconut oil||Olive oil||Sunflower oil|
|Palm oil||Canola oil||Wheat oil|
|Pre-packed snacks like pastries, crackers, cookies, chips||Margarine labelled with “high oleic”||Mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovy which contain omega-3 fatty acids|
|Butter||Cashew nuts||Pumpkin seeds|
|Milk||Soybean oil (non-hydrogenated)|
|Cocoa butter||Flax seeds|
So where do trans fats fit in this picture?
Trans fatty acids are a type of fat created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These changes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
To find the amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food, check the Nutritional label. Partially hydrogenated oils also known as trans fat (if up to 0.5 grams or more per serving) will be listed in a separate line in the “Total Fat” section of the panel, directly beneath the line for “Saturated Fat.” This means if a food package states 0 grams of trans fats, it might still have some trans fats if the amount per serving is less than 0.5 g. Make sure to check the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated oil.”
The long and short?
Watch what oils/fats you eat: you may need to use a food diary. Incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables. And exercise! The benefits are innumerable.