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Know Your Fats: The Essential Guide

It can be overwhelming trying to understand how to eat healthily without getting a headache. Here we put together a brief guide introducing the different types of fats and where to find them. This isn’t a definitive guide, but it’s in line with good evidence based nutritional guidelines.

Fats, which when liquid are known as oils, have essential functions such as boosting energy, keeping you warm, building cells, protecting your organs, helping you absorb vitamins and more. As always, balance is key!

Furthermore, we know that they influence your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance has 3 main purposes: it aids the production of sex hormones; is an essential material for human tissue; and assists bile production in your liver. Bad cholesterol (LDL) carries cholesterol and fatty acids away from the liver and towards arteries, where it can become clogged or blocked. Good cholesterol (HDL) does the opposite – cholesterol and fats are transported to the liver and used for other purposes.

What we eat can alter this balance. It can be complex, involving a variety of different factors. Nevertheless, while we focus on fats here, we strongly suggest keeping a balanced diet with lots of exercise!

Trans Fats

First, let’s start with the bad guys…

Trans Fats are the big evil. Raising your bad cholesterol (LDL) which increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, they lower beneficial cholesterol (HDL) levels. This characteristic is what makes them so much worse for you than saturated fat. The British Heart Foundation suggests to avoid wherever possible.

Small amounts are found in animal-based foods like meat and dairy, however the majority are made in an industrial process. Trans fats help food last longer. Companies do this by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils which solidify at room temperature, which also gives food a satisfying taste and texture. Basically, trans fats are mostly artificial and in foods with a long shelf-life. 

Found in:
  • Fried fast food and take-aways
  • Commercial cakes, biscuits, crackers, donuts, pastries and other highly processed carbohydrates
  • Hard margarines
  • Frozen pizza and microwave popcorn

Tip = Avoid when possible and look out for trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, vegetable shortening on ingredients lists.

Saturated Fat

Most saturated fats raises bad cholesterol levels. As mentioned above, this increases risk of heart disease. However, unlike trans fats they do not lower your good cholesterol levels.

Usually they are solid at room temperature. Mostly found in animal products and some plant products. To many nutrition experts, they are considered harmful to health. It is suggested that you should cut down on saturated fat intake and replace with healthier alternatives wherever possible.

Found in:
  • Processed meats such as sausages, ham, burgers
  • Red meat, chicken and other poultry with skin on
  • Hard cheese
  • Butter, lard, ghee, suet, palm oil and coconut oil

Tip = Reduce intake and swap for unsaturated fats. If a vegetable is high in saturated fats (like avocado) but also much higher in unsaturated fats, you’re probably best sticking with it.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats primarily come from vegetables, nuts and fish. Liquid at room temperature, they are considered better for you body and necessary for good health. They help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering the bad cholesterol in your blood. In some cases they even raise your good cholesterol levels too.

The British Heart Foundation advises to eat these in small amounts. You should also try to swap saturated fats for these.

There are 2 forms:

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature but solid when refrigerated. Some foods containing these fatty acids are high in vitamin E which is great for immune functionality and lower your bad cholesterol levels too. Moreover they may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar.

Found in:
  • Avocados and olives
  • Olive, canola, rapeseed and peanut oils
  • Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts and other nuts

Polyunsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature and refrigerated. They include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which are essential for brain functionality and cell growth. Additionally, polyunsaturated fats lower your cholesterol and reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.

Found in:
  • Flaxseed, corn, soybean, and sunflower oil
  • walnuts and pine nuts
  • flaxseeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds

Tip = Eat in small amounts

A Note on Oil

The best oils are those high in unsaturated fats. Here at GreenJinn we’ve talked a little about the benefits of olive oil. However, when cooking even healthy oils can lose their nutritional benefits, as well as their flavour! An oil’s smoke point is the temperature when it breaks down and smokes. So oils with high smoke points (corn, soybean, peanut, sesame) are perfect for stir-frying and high-heat frying. Olive, canola and grape-seed oils have moderate smoke points and are good for sautéing over a medium high-heat. Flaxseed, walnut and extra virgin olive oil have very low smoke points and should be saved for salads or dips.

Well, we’ve learned a lot and we’ve only touched the surface. Trans fats are really bad for you – found in processed foods, fried fast food and hydrogenated vegetable oils. They raise your bad cholesterol levels and lower your good cholesterol. A majority of studies have found that saturated fats are bad for you too – found in mainly animal products, they also raise your bad cholesterol levels. Both increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes.

We also learned that not all fats are bad for you.

Most foods have a combination of saturated and unsaturated. Therefore you are better off choosing foods higher in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Quantity matters though. Eat in small amounts and maintain a balanced diet. Try to cut down frying your food, and if you do use an oil with a high smoke point and don’t let things get too hot.

It doesn’t have to be expensive either. GreenJinn has a wide range of coupons that make being healthy easier and cheaper!

None of the advice given on this website is to be considered as medical advice, however these recommendations are in line with those by public bodies. If you have a medical condition please discuss with your doctor before considering any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

To get more information, or double check what we’ve written, check out these websites:

Nutrition Facts | MedLine Plus | Healthline | British Heart Foundation | Heart.org | Mayo Clinic | WebMD

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