When I started the omega-3 section of this blog I quickly realized I could not write about why we needed omega-3 oils if I didn’t know details about the other oils we consume. While researching the subject I found myself wading in the minutiae of fatty acid composition. I really did not want to learn as much as I did about this subject. However, like anything else, the more I learned the more interested I became. I can now say that this is a fascinating subject!
Once again, before we get into the details of omega-3 I think we should organize the fats we consume into their three main categories.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, understanding oils is confusing because there are so many names given to the different oils. Various literature will make reference to “double bonds” and “saturated with hydrogen.” Don’t let these descriptions and/or terminology confuse you.
Saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are three basic categories of fat. I am not including trans fat in the categorization. As you recall, trans fats are hydrogenated omega-6 oils. They are not considered a food group since the body cannot use them for energy. Its only purpose is to provide a cheap source of fat in packaged and fast food.
I. Saturated Fat
Saturated Fatty Acids are chains of fatty molecules packed or saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturating, or packing, chains of oils with hydrogen, makes the oil very dense and stiff. They are solid at room temperature and tend to solidify inside our arteries if more than we need for cell function is consumed.
Most of the saturated fat we consume comes from animals and milk which we make into butter and cream. Egg yolks have nearly been banned from most people’s diets since they represent the epitome of the saturated fat which causes high cholesterol in our blood. The saturated fat in eggs doesn’t raise our cholesterol as much as we once thought. Eggs are also packed with nutrients and a great source of low calorie protein.
Some plant oils, such as palm, coconut, and cottonseed, also contain a large amount of saturated fat. American companies who used these oils in popcorn and other snack foods have stopped using them since they received such bad press. However, scientists are taking another look at palm and coconut oil since there is evidence that these plants also have nutritional value that may outweigh the negative effects of the saturated fat they contain.
The good: Saturated fat is necessary for brain function and is an integral part of a well-functioning immune system. Saturated fat is also an important source of energy.
The bad: Saturated fat is detrimental to our health when it is the only fat we include in our diet. The type of fat we consume should be varied since each fat serves a particular purpose. No fat is 100% bad except trans fat. Saturated fat can cause plaque inside our arteries, which can lead to a decreased blood flow to our heart, causing a heart attack. However, this information is a bit misleading since in the past we have confused and interchanged the terms “saturated fat” with “trans fat.”