More and more often, when we talk about fat, we use a negative meaning. In fact, we are making a big mistake, because not all fat should be considered a damage to our health. It is therefore important to make a clear distinction between good and bad fats, or saturated and unsaturated fats. The first are extremely useful to our organism and can be taken as nutrients. The latter, however, are harmful especially if taken over time. Knowing how to distinguish them is essential to live in a healthy way, with a varied and balanced diet and without sacrificing to eat foods with lipid content.
All fats consist of organic molecules that are not soluble in water, with a high-energy power of about nine kcal per gram. Depending on the state in which they are at room temperature, they are divided in solids, such as butter, lard, and margarine, and in liquids (or oils) such as olive oil, sunflower oil, etc. Saturated and unsaturated fats have different origins: the animal ones, such as butter, cream and lard, and those of plant origin, obtained from the pressing of fruits or various seeds.
Why does our body need fats?
Saturated and unsaturated fats are also part of the macronutrient category and should never be lacking in a well-balanced diet. They are often considered as unhealthy elements, but good fats help maintain an excellent health level and general well-being. Just like proteins and carbohydrates, fats also play a key role in our diet and act as a fuel for the body’s vital activities. In fact, they represent nutrients with the highest caloric density and energy in our diet. This makes them a key element in our body’s energy process.
Even if some diets promote a low-fat content, they are essential for our survival and are a vital component of a healthy diet. Obviously, it is necessary to select good fat and consume them in a measured way.
Difference between saturated and unsaturated fats
The most important difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is the chemical structure of molecules, which can be saturated (richer in hydrogen) or unsaturated, which are healthier. Saturated fats are generally solid and are found mainly in land animals. Unsaturated foods are generally liquid and are mainly contained in vegetables and fish. However, there are exceptions. Palm oil, for example, is semi-solid at room temperature and consists predominantly of saturated fats.
What is saturated fat?
It is established that an excess of saturated fat is bad for our health and for the cardiovascular system. Saturated fats are difficult to metabolize and tend to accumulate in the blood. They can therefore cause an increase in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (commonly known as bad cholesterol) with the natural consequence of a greater predisposition to cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack or stroke. Saturated fat tend to raise the cholesterol level in the blood even more than the dietary intake of cholesterol itself. These include mainly dairy products (cheese, whole milk, cream, and butter), red meat and its derivatives and certain vegetable oils (palm oil and especially coconut oil).
What is unsaturated fat?
Saturated fat foods do not raise cholesterol level in the blood as saturated ones.
Some unsaturated fat examples are found in products of vegetable origin such as olives, olive oil and dried fruit, but also in blue fish, salmon, mackerel, which are not harmful to our body, rather they are essential.
Unsaturated fatty acids are considered good fats to be included in our diet, as they do not fatten and promote all-round well-being. They are recommended for a healthy diet and, if consumed in moderation, they bring benefits to our body without any risk. In turn, they are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats are present in various foods and oils and it has been shown that their consumption allows increasing the level of HDL (good cholesterol) in the blood, thus preventing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, are also known as essential fats, as our body is not able to produce them autonomously and therefore, they need to be introduced through food.
Our advice for you
Saturated and unsaturated fats: our advice is to reduce as much as possible foods very rich in saturated fat. It is important to replace them with foods that are sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as dried fruit, blue fish and complex carbohydrates, capable to perform the important function of balancing bad cholesterol, fight inflammation, excess of triglycerides and reduce blood pressure. The Longevity Diet designed by prof. Valter Longo follows this line. Do you want to know more? Buy the book here!