The Difference Between Unsaturated and Saturated Fats

At some point in our aging process, our cholesterol levels  come into consciousness.  The kind of fat we eat, and how often we eat it, plays a roll in controlling our cholesterol levels.   Some fats can raise cholesterol levels, while other fats lower cholesterol levels. The good news is that you do not have to cut fat out of your diet entirely.  Including fat in our diet is actually good for us as long we don’t over do it and we eat the correct types of fat.  Also, when traveling abroad, make sure you have good international medical coverage in case of an emergency.

Triglycerides, the main form of fat in our bodies and in our diet, provide us with energy, insulation, and protect our internal organs from damage as well as enable our bodies to metabolize proteins and carbohydrates. Triglycerides play an important part in our blood circulation.  However, when our triglyceride levels get too high, they can cause major health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and even cancer.  Saturated, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats can raise or lower your triglyceride levels.

Saturated Fats

When you are reading food labels, you need to watch out for the three types of fats.  Saturated fats or trans fats are the worst for your body.   It is recommended that you limit your intake of saturated fat to 20 grams per day, which is met fairly quickly.  Some common foods that are high in saturated fats are straight butter, lard, shortening, cheese, processed meats such as sausage and bratwurst, and whip cream.  Watch out for boxed cereals and baked goods like packaged cookies, crackers, granola bars, breakfast bars and candy bars.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are better for you and help lower “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and leaves the “good cholesterol” (HDL) levels the same.  These are usually liquid at room temperature.   Some healthy foods that contain monounsaturated fats include vegetable oil, olives and olive oil, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, avocado and avocado oil, almonds and almond butter.  Monounsaturated fats are also typically high in vitamin E, a beneficial antioxidant vitamin.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats  lower both LDL and HDL levels.   They include essential fats that your body needs but can’t produce itself – such as omega-6 and omega-3.  These essential fats are only obtained through food. Omega-6 and omega-3 play a crucial role in brain function and in the normal growth and development of your body.  Foods high in polyunsaturated fat include a number of vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.  Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.

For a heart healthy diet, avoid foods with Saturated or trans fats.  Think natural foods rather than packaged, processed foods.  When you do your grocery shopping, try to primarily buy foods that are included on the perimeter of the store (fruits and vegetables, seafood, chicken, low fat dairy, soy) and limit the packaged, processed foods in the middle aisles.