When it comes to balancing your body health by consuming the right kinds of foods and nutrients, fats are an essential part of our daily diets. You may be accustomed to associating fats with unhealthy habits and bad health, but experts agree that our bodies need a specific intake of fat for energy and other purposes. According to Harvard Medical School, not only do fats provide a vital energy source for the human body, but they help us to absorb minerals and vitamins, build cell membranes, support nerve health, aid muscle movement, make blood clotting possible and contribute to the process of inflammation to protect the body from contaminants.
Fats come in multiple forms — both detrimental and beneficial — but the most common categorization of fats are unsaturated and saturated fats. To support long-term health and make the best dietary choices, it is recommended that you understand the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats and which foods contain each.
What Is Saturated Fat?
Tightly-packed fats that are solid at room temperature because they contain no double bonds in their chemical structures are known as saturated fats — because their structures contain as many hydrogen atoms as possible, and they are "saturated" with hydrogen. Saturated fats are typically found in the following foods:
- Meats, especially red meats like beef, but sometimes pork and poultry, as well
- Whole-milk and full-fat dairy products like cheese, milk, and butter
- Plant oils like coconut and palm kernel oil
- Processed meats like sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and bologna
- Packaged and processed foods like crackers, cookies, pastries, and chips
While some saturated fat is necessary for your diet — about five or six percent of your average daily intake, according to the American Heart Association — too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels and increase your store of LDL, the type of cholesterol that causes plaque buildup in the arteries. Because of this correlation, it is possible that a diet rich in saturated fats can lead to health risks like heart disease or type 2 diabetes. The health hazards of high intakes of saturated fats, however, can depend on the type of food source they come from. For example, the National Institutes of Health found that processed meats can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases, while dairy may decrease it.
What Is Unsaturated Fat?
Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are different from saturated fats because they contain one or more double bonds and fewer hydrogen atoms on their carbon chains. Unsaturated fats come from plants and occur in the following kinds of foods:
- Olive oils
- Vegetable oils, canola oils and plant oils
- Fish like salmon, anchovies, tuna and others containing omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts and seeds
If you are wondering what the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is, here is the bottom line: Experts agree that unsaturated fats are the way to go. According to Harvard Medical School, unsaturated fats are beneficial to heart health because they help reduce high cholesterol levels, which prevents conditions like heart disease and stroke. These healthy, natural fats occur in the following two types:
- Monounsaturated Fats: Consisting of one carbon-to-carbon double bond, monounsaturated fats can help control blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as lower your cholesterol levels to decrease your risk of cardiovascular conditions. Doctors recommend replacing as many saturated fats as possible with monounsaturated fats, which can be found in foods like peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Containing two or more double bonds in their chemical structures, polyunsaturated fats are essential to regular body functions such as covering nerves, building cell membranes, blood clotting, inflammation and muscle movement — but your body cannot make these fats itself, so it is recommended that you obtain your polyunsaturated fats from your diet. In addition to helping your body perform vital functions, these types of unsaturated fats lower harmful triglycerides, reduce blood pressure and increase the right kind of cholesterol. They also prevent heart conditions and lessen the effect of other health conditions like dementia and rheumatoid arthritis. You can find polyunsaturated fats in foods like fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, chia and hemp seeds and walnut oil.
Choose the Right Kinds of Fats
In both your cooking and your eating habits, it is important to incorporate a range of healthy unsaturated fats for your body's best condition. With flavor- and nutrient-rich, all-natural, minimally processed artisan oils of all varieties, La Tourangelle offers a range of oils that will help you with your culinary creations and your diet. Contact us today to learn more about our heart-healthy cooking oils.