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Being one of the most common supplements, you may have heard of omega 3 fatty acid that is found primarily in the usual fish oil supplementation, but did you know they’re one of the essential fatty acids that have a role in our heart, brain and eye health? While consuming fatty foods sounds like a bad thing, some fats can actually have a significant effect on keeping our heart healthy and are hence termed as good, healthy fats. Keep reading to know more!
Dietary fats are essential components for the optimal functioning of our body. Along with the other two major macronutrients - carbohydrates and proteins, fats are an excellent source of energy in our diet. Did you know? 1g of fat actually provides 9 kcal of energy.
Additionally, dietary fats also play a significant role in protecting our organs, insulation, inflammation and contribute to blood clotting. They’re also required for the transportation of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K. Apart from that, fats also impart taste and flavor to food, thereby enhancing their palatability.
In the Malaysian context, a large percentage of fatty acids in our diet is derived from vegetable oils and it is important to appreciate these oils are mixtures of Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) & Saturated fatty acids (SFA) in varying proportions.
When it comes to taking care of your heart, the choices you make in your diet play a crucial role. One of the key aspects of heart-healthy eating is understanding the difference between good and bad fats. Not all fats are created equal, and making the right choices can significantly impact your cardiovascular well-being.
There are 4 types of fat as a whole: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, and saturated fats. Monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats are classified as “Good” dietary fats and trans & saturated fats are classified as “Bad” dietary fats.
Fun fact: foods that mainly contain healthy fats tend to be liquid when at room temperature, an example is vegetable oil.
These fats are your heart’s best friends. Research has consistently shown that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fat can have positive impacts on your blood cholesterol level and subsequently decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Examples of food rich in MUFA are oils (sunflower, olive, canola), avocados, nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts), and seeds (sesame, pumpkin).
Also known as “essential fats” since the body cannot make them on its own and we usually obtain PUFA from external sources like foods or supplements. These fats include essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. PUFA just like MUFA plays a pivotal role in decreasing risk for heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.
Eating saturated and trans fats increases your total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. These fats also raise your risk for heart disease and intake should be minimized as little as possible. Most of the foods that contain these types of fats are solid at room temperature.
These fats are thought to raise LDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart diseases like hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, stroke, and so on.
Examples of food rich in saturated fats are red meat, butter, cheese, and full-fat dairy items. Some plant oils like coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fats. While there’s no need to eliminate all saturated fats from your diet, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fats intake to not more than 10% of your daily calories.
Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in meat and dairy products.
It is artificial trans fats, often labeled as partially hydrogenated oils that are considered dangerous. They can be found in many processed and fried foods such as fried chicken, burgers, baked goods like pastries and donuts, stick margarine, etc. Artificial trans fats are considered the worst type of fat as it not only raises bad LDL cholesterol but also lower good cholesterol (HDL) levels, possessing a threat to your heart health.
Besides, artificial trans fats can also result in inflammation that is often linked to the development of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. For this reason, it is encouraged to avoid trans fats or foods with labels mentioning “partially hydrogenated oils” to keep your heart health in check.
The amount of fat you should eat in a day depends on your individual dietary needs and goals, as well as your overall calorie intake. Instead of obsessively counting fat grams, aim for a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans, with two or more weekly servings of fatty fish, moderate amounts of dairy, small amounts of red meat, and only occasional fried or processed meals.
This might mean replacing fried chicken with grilled chicken, swapping out some of the red meat you eat with other sources of protein such as fish, chicken, or beans, or using olive oil rather than butter. Following a Mediterranean diet can also help ensure you're getting enough good fats in your diet and limiting the bad ones.
While knowing more about the different types of fatty acids can help you make better-informed decisions about the foods you eat, it’s important to clarify one common misconception. Many believe that when you eat a certain food, you’re only eating one type of fat. In reality, foods containing fats typically consist of a blend of different fat types. While certain fats may be more prominent in specific foods, ie: saturated fat in butter, it's important to recognize that when you consume butter, you're also getting monounsaturated fat along with it.
Knowing which food sources are high in the different kinds of fat can help you choose foods higher in heart-healthy MUFAs and PUFAs and lower in saturated and trans fats. We should place more emphasis on the types of fats you eat and less on the amount of fat. Don't go no fat, go good fat!
This article is written by Janelle Leong, Bpharm(Hons) (DOC2US),
reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Haniffan, MBBS (DOC2US)
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