The Skinny on Fats: Understanding Saturated vs. Unsaturated

There is a lot of talk these days about fats - specifically, the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats. But what does that mean for your diet? And how much should you be eating? In this blog post, we will explore the differences between these two types of fat and discuss how they can impact your health. 

A diet that is based on fats and simple carbohydrates can cause excess fat to accumulate in the body. This promotes the development of health-threatening diseases, including atherosclerosis, obesity, gallstone disease and many others.

The role of fats in the body

Our body cannot function properly without fats. They are a building material that helps maintain the structure of cells, tissues and organs. Fats are a source of EFAs ( i.e. essential unsaturated fatty acids needed for the absorption of vitamins - A, D, E and K), surround internal organs, especially the heart, kidneys and intestines, and fill the body cavities.

Fats increase the taste of dishes and additionally provide a feeling of fullness, and are also a reserve of energy, that constitutes about 10% of the human body weight. With obesity, the amount of fat in the body can be much higher, reaching even 25-30%.

Saturated and unsaturated fats - what are the differences?

Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are liquid. Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources, such as meat and dairy, while unsaturated fats are mostly found in plant-based foods

Fats are divided into three basic groups:

  • Saturated fatty acids,
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids,
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated fats 

Saturated fats are mostly animal fats - meat and dairy products such as butter and lard. This group also includes some vegetable oils: coconut and palm. They are solid at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids are endogenous - the body can synthesize them on its own. Moreover, they are present in the diet. It should be remembered that although it is a source of energy, fat also contributes to an increase in the concentration of cholesterol in the blood system, which accelerates the development of atherosclerotic lesions. Moreover, consuming excessive amounts of saturated fat promotes the development of cancer- colon, breast and prostate.

Unsaturated fats 

Unsaturated fatty acids mainly come from plants. A rich source of EFAs are also soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and some animal products, such as fish oil. The most important for our body are PUFA fats, which include essential fatty acids (EFAs), linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid. 

EFAs: exogenous fats
Human body cannot synthesize them on its own and must be supplied with food. Their role is to convert fats and cholesterol. They participate in the transport of lipids in the body, which contributes to the reduction of cholesterol and other lipid indicators in the blood serum. What's more, EFAs help prevent the formation of blood clots and atherosclerosis. As they are components of tissues, they should be supplied to the body early in life. Thanks to them, the body can produce prostaglandins - the so-called tissue hormones that are distinguished by multidirectional action. Among other things, they regulate the work of the circulatory system, the secretion of digestive juices, and the aggregation of platelets.

MUFAs: monounsaturated fatty acids

These include oleic acid, which can be found, among others, in olive oil (about 69%) and rapeseed oil without erosion (about 55%). Monounsaturated fatty acids are effective in lowering the concentration of total cholesterol and LDL fraction. This has been confirmed by studies of the population living in the Mediterranean region. In this society it is common to consume olive oil which is low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and high in monounsaturated fatty acids. 

Saturated and unsaturated fats - what to eat?

The need for fat varies according to age, gender, and physical activity. However, it is recommended that fats constitute a maximum of 40% of the daily energy requirement.

Our diet also includes the so-called invisible fats, which are 50-60% of the total daily consumption. They can be found in dairy products, meat, confectionery, cereal products, and even in vegetables and fruits (0.5-1%). 

According to current research, it is very important to stay healthy to lower the total fat content of your diet. This applies in particular to saturated acids as well as trans isomers of unsaturated fatty acids, i.e. TFA (Trans Fatty Acids). Trans fatty acids lead to an increase in the level of total cholesterol and its LDL fraction, i.e. "Bad cholesterol." Moreover, they are among the risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases and increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer and breast cancer. These acids also pro-aggregate platelets (cause them to stick together) and increase the risk of stroke.

Converting 1% of energy from saturated fatty acids to mono- or polyunsaturated fatty acids, complex carbohydrates or vegetable protein can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 4-8%.

For your health, replace animal fats with vegetable oils in your daily diet. Avoid eating tropical oils - coconut and palm oils, which are also saturated fats.

Which diet to choose?

If you want to follow a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals - choose the Mediterranean Diet. The foundation of this cuisine are olive oil and products such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seafood, and poultry. The moderate consumption of dairy products, red meat, and sweets is also allowed. This diet has a positive effect on health - it lowers the level of total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. It also reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

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