Fat: Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans-fats. Which is healthy?

Last updated on February 4th, 2024 at 08:06 pm

 10 minutes read.    

which one is healthy?

All foods containing fat have a mix of specific types of fats.

Even foods containing healthy fats like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, though much less than the amounts found in beef, cheese, and ice cream.

Being concerned about the kind of food that contain healthy fats is a smart way to start a lifestyle that can help you live longer.

The main types of “healthy” fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The main types of “unhealthy” fats are saturated and trans fat.

Saturated fat is mainly found in animal foods, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels and help you maintain a healthy heart.

If you have been wondering what fat is all about and how it affects your health feel free to stay with me to the end because this article was specially prepared for you. But you can skip ahead if you like.

image credit: TrueCare/Getty image

What is fat?

Fat is any glycerol and various fatty acid derived from organic or inorganic substances. Some of these are solid or jell at room temperature, while some are liquid at room temperature.

They constitute the components of organic substances such as plants and animals.

Or simply say Fat is any oily compound found in plants or animals.

About 40 percent of our daily calories are derived from dietary fats.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fat is a type of fatty acid in which the hydrocarbon molecules have two carbons that share double or triple bond(s) and are therefore not completely saturated with hydrogen atoms. Due to the decreased concentration of hydrogen bonds, the structures are weaker and are, therefore, typically liquid (oil) at room temperature.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat is a single bonded carbon chain that is concentrated with hydrogen atoms, which means the structure is strong and hard to break hence it is usually solid at room temperature.

Trans Fats

Trans-fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst, a process called hydrogenation. Or simply put trans-fats are oils turned into solid fats during food processing.

Types of fats

What are the different types of fat and which are healthy?

Fats are grouped into three categories:

1. Unsaturated fat

2. Saturated fat

3. Trans-fats.

Unsaturated fats come in two forms;

Monounsaturated fat and

Polyunsaturated fat.

These two forms of fat are regarded as healthy days.  #good fats.

While saturated fats and trans-fat are regarded as unhealthy days. #bad fats.

Sources of Unsaturated, Saturated and Trans-fats

Sources of Monounsaturated Fat (unsaturated fat)

These fats come from plant-based sources and include:

  • Avocados fruits
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashew nuts, pecans, peanuts (ground nuts), pine nuts, pumpkins, breadfruits (ukwa) sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds.
  • Olive oil and olives, oil extracted from ground nuts/peanuts.
  • Vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, corn, canola, soybean, and cottonseed.
  • Peanuts/groundnut butter/spread (ose oji)

Sources of Polyunsaturated fat

(Unsaturated fat)

These fats come from plant-based sources, poultry, and fish, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

Sources of omega-3 include:

  • Oily fish, such as mackerel and salmon
  • Eggs
  • Seeds such as flaxseed or chia seeds
  • Nuts, such as walnuts
  • Legumes, such as soybeans

Sources of omega-6 include:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Legumes, such as soybeans
  • Sunflower oil
  • Corn
Sunflower oil

Sources of Saturated

Saturated fat is mostly found in foods and snacks such as;

Pizza and cheese

pizza

Whole and reduced-fat milk, butter, and dairy desserts

Meat products (sausage, bacon, beef, hamburgers)

Cookies and other grain-based desserts

A variety of mixed fast food dishes.

Coconut oil

Palm oil (cannel oil, ofe aku)

Sources of Trans -fat

Trans-fat is mostly found in industrially processed food items such as butter, margarine, and ice cream. etc.

 Food with trans-fat

However, some small amount of trans-fat occurs naturally in some meat and dairy products, but those found in processed foods tend to be the most harmful to your health.

For instance, partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to become rancid (meaning they can’t change taste, color, or smell for a long period of time).

This process also converts the oil into a solid, which makes them function as margarine or shortening.

Partially hydrogenated oils can withstand repeated heating without breaking down, making them ideal for frying fast foods.

Image credit: TradeIndia.Picture: hydrogenated oil

 

For these reasons, partially hydrogenated oils became a mainstay in restaurants and the food industry for frying, baked goods, processed snack foods, and margarine.

Partially hydrogenated oil is not the only source of trans-fats in our diets. Trans-fats are also naturally found in beef fat and dairy fat in small amounts.

I hope you’re getting value.

How does fat affect your health?

Fat is an important nutritional component of your overall health. However, it can affect your health in both positive and negative ways hence the good fat and bad fat.

Here is how: 

Health Benefits of Unsaturated (mono and polyunsaturated fat)

  • Reducing the amount of saturated fat you consume can be good for your general health. If you can replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats that will go a long way in helping you maintain the kind of lifestyle your desire.
  • Eating monounsaturated fats (good fat) in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” cholesterol-Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)’ and it improves the amount of “good” cholesterol-High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), and by so doing it lowers the risk of heart disease and reduce inflammation.
  • Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, which is the major cause of diabetes.

Though saturated fat may not be as harmful as you thought, observationally most people who feed more on saturated fat from whole natural food do not suffer from the fat-related disease much. however, the evidence clearly shows that unsaturated “good” fat remains the healthiest type of fat.

Health Effect of Saturated Fat and Trans-fat

Here is why you should reduce the amount of Saturated fat and trans-fat you consume through food and snacks;

Overconsumption of saturated fats is one of the leading causes of obesity and related conditions in adults, according to a study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (opens in new tab).

With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of the amount of saturated fat you are consuming.

Trans-fats are the worst type of fat for the heart, blood vessels, and rest of the body because they:

It raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers good cholesterol (HDL).

It creates inflammation, a reaction related to immunity which has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions

It contributes to insulin resistance.

It can actually have harmful health effects even in small amounts for each additional 2 percent of calories from trans-fat consumed daily.

The risk of coronary heart disease increases by 23 percent.

Saturated fats and trans-fats have been linked to negative health outcomes, including metabolic syndrome (a combination of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure) and cancer.

How do I identify if the food that contains bad fat or good day?

  • Find out foods that contain healthy fats by reading authentic articles on nutrition and lifestyle like the one you’re reading now.
  • Look out for saturated and trans-fat on the nutritional label of every oil, snack, or food you buy from the grocery.

This will guide to help you determine which fats are beneficial, and which are harmful.

However, in some developing countries, food nutrition is not regulated as a result the manufacturers may not care to specify the detailed nutritional information on the label.

Why do you need some Fat?

Generally, you need some amount of fat to stay healthy.

A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself.

Fat helps the body to absorb vitamins.

For instance, monounsaturated fats help us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Which means they can only be absorbed with the help of fats.

Even saturated fat, especially from whole-natural food, is a good source of vitamin A. For example red oil from palm trees.

Polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are needed for the proper function of our brains and bodies.

Any fat that’s not used by your body’s cells or turned into energy is converted into body fat. Likewise, unused carbohydrates and proteins are also converted into body fat.

The omega-3 acids in oily fish are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid),”

Although the human body can synthesize EPA and DHA but our bodies are not efficient at doing this. Therefore the levels produce by our body tend to be low.

So, making sure you take in enough omega-3, either through the diet or by having an omega-3 supplement, is important.

Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help prevent the onset of heart disease by helping to lower levels of triglycerides (fat in the blood), lowering blood pressure, and improving blood circulation.

Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids obtained from the diet, which are mainly used to give you energy.

A review in the Journal of Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy tells us that omega-3 and omega-6 need to be consumed in balance with one another.

All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat, whether it’s saturated or unsaturated, provides 9kcal (37kJ) of energy compared with 4kcal (17kJ) for carbohydrates and protein.

In general, unsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds are the “good” fats we need to include in our diet.

 These help to support heart and brain health, among other functions. Saturated fat, on the other hand, should be eaten in small quantities because the excessive level will affect your health negatively.

Tips for choosing the best healthy fats

 If you really want to maintain a certain lifestyle as it regards diet consider the below tips;

  • To avoid trans-fat, look on nutrition labels for ingredients such as “partially hydrogenated” oil or shortening.
  • Also look for “trans-fat” in the nutritional information of products, such as commercially baked cookies, crackers, and fried foods.
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat that do not have much visible fat. Leaner cuts include round cuts and sirloin cuts. Trim visible fat off meats before eating.
  • Sauté with olive oil or canola oil instead of butter.
  • Use avocado or peanuts/ground nut spread instead of butter.
  • Use olive oil in salad dressings and marinades.
  • Use canola oil when baking.
  • Don’t overheat any cooking oil.
  • Try to make vegetable and fresh tomato stew or sauce instead of canned tomato stew or  ofe aku (palm fruit soup)
  • When reheating soups or stews, skim the solid fats from the top before heating.
  • Sprinkle slivered nuts or sunflower seeds on salads instead of bacon bits.
  • Snack on a small handful of nuts rather than potato chips or processed crackers.
  • Try peanut butter or other nut-butter spreads (which do not contain trans-fat) on celery, bananas, or low-fat crackers.
  • Add slices of avocado rather than cheese to your sandwich.
  • Once or twice a week prepare fish, such as salmon or mackerel, instead of meat.

Other vital Tips include:

Foods High in Saturated Fat/Trans-fat. #bad fat    Instead of thisFood high in Mono/Polyunsaturated Fat. #healthy fat   Go for this  
Butter, lard, shortening, coconut, coconut oil, palm oilMargarine (look for 0 grams of trans fat on the label), vegetable oil spread, olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, canola oil cooking spray
Whole milk, 2% milk, half & half, creamSkim, 1%, fat free half & half
Red meat, ground beef, sausage, bacon, organ meats (such as liver, kidney)White meat chicken, turkey, pork chop with fat trimmed, ground beef sirloin, fish, soy products, nuts/seeds or beans
Poultry skin, visible meat fatSkinless and trimmed meats
Fried or pan-fried foodsGrilled, baked, roasted, steamed, broiled, boiled
Deli meats like bologna, pepperoni, salamiDeli ham, turkey, chicken breast, or extra lean roast beef
Whole eggs or egg yolksEgg substitute or egg whites
Ice creamFrozen yogurt, sherbet, low-fat ice cream
Cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, whipped creamFat-free or reduced-fat version
Chocolates, pies, doughnuts, brownies, buttered popcornSugar-free pudding made with 1% or skim milk, vanilla wafers, animal crackers, low-fat microwave popcorn

Conclusion

Since most fats and oils contain both saturated and unsaturated fats in different proportions

.

As part of a healthy diet, you should try to cut down on foods and drinks that are high in saturated fats and trans-fats and replace some of them with unsaturated fats.

Use locally processed red oil that remains liquid under room temperature instead of industrially processed oil that turns solid (congeal) under room temperature.

When preparing palm fruit soup or stew (ofe aku), try to cook it for about 30 to 40 minutes, allow it to cool, then carefully skim the red oil on the surface, before adding the ingredients and spices you want to use however, bear in mind that red oil you’re skimming is actually a good source of vitamin A.

Limit the amount of fried food you eat. Such food can expose you to excessive consumption of trans-fats and saturated fat.

Don’t overheat any type of cooking oil you choose to use.

Repeatedly heated cooking oils (RCO) can generate varieties of compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which have been reported as carcinogenic.

When cooking your stew, noodles, soup, fried rice or jorrof rice limits the amount of oil you add.

While eating saturated fat in excess can have negative health outcomes, consuming small amounts of saturated fat in moderation is fine, so there’s no need to completely cut out your favorite foods to avoid it.

I hope you get the value worth your time. I appreciate the time you spend with me. Leave a comment if you like this post.  Are you familiar with any of these foods shown in the above pictures? Is there any other question bothering you about fat I didn’t cover here? Feel free to share with me in the comment below.

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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

The content provided in living Good Blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to provide medical advice or take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal doctor. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Living Good Blog takes no responsibility for possible health consequences of any person(s) reading or following the information in this educational content. Viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medication, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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