Historically, there has been great emphasis on the total fat in the diet, but the types of fats we eat are equally important because of their impact on health.
Fats, as they are commonly called are actually triglycerides. A triglyceride as it’s name suggests, consists of three fatty acids that are attached to a molecule of a substance called glycerol
Fatty acids may be classified based upon the chain length and saturation status. You may be wondering..what has a lesson reminiscent of my high school chemistry class got to do with the kinds of fats I eat? However, these characteristics influence the fatty acids’ properties in cooking, how they impact your cholesterol levels and other vital functions in your body.
- Classification based upon chain length:
- Short chain ( up to 6 carbons)
- Medium chain ( 8-12 carbons long)
- Long chain ( >12 carbons, with the 18 and 20 carbon ones being especially important in nutrition)
- Classification based upon saturation status
- Saturated fatty acids: These fats have no double bonds at all. Because of their molecular structure, saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Think of that stick of butter in your refrigerator. Unless the mercury hits 95 degrees, butter tends to holds it shape.
- Trans fatty acids: These are found in partially hydrogenated oils and may be more harmful than saturated fats. For information on how they are produced, please listen to my podcast below.
- Unsaturated fatty acids: May have only one double bond (aptly called “mono” unsaturated) or 2 or more double bonds (polyunsaturated). Because of their spatial configuration, unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, and favorably impact your cholesterol levels
- Monounsaturated: That olive oil you love to toss on your pasta, is a classic example, as well as nuts and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated: Depending upon the location of the double bond, polyunsaturated fats may be classified as:
- Omega -3 fatty acids: Found in cold water fish such as cod, mackerel, trout etc. Think of fish with oily skin. Also found in walnuts and flax-seed.
- Omega 6 fatty acids: Found in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower and corn oil.
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