Throughout middle school, high school, and college, health educators tirelessly stress the importance of determining which fats are healthy and unhealthy to consume day-to-day. As humans, it is our responsibility to dissect nutrition labels before purchasing products, depending on the fat content, alongside other health hindering factors. The terms “healthy fat” and “unhealthy fat” underestimate the impact completely. As opposed to organizing the varying fats by “healthy” and “unhealthy,” we need to recognize they are to be organized into the categories “safe” and “unsafe.”
As a quick crash course, it’s important to be aware that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the GOOD fats that we NEED in our bodies. Notice that nuts along many other foods, like avocados and eggs, have a high monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content, which is GOOD! These fats play an essential role in lowering cholesterol levels, sustaining regular heart rhythm, reducing heart inflammation, regulating insulin and blood sugar, and protecting against high blood pressure.
Contrasting with the beneficial fats, we also have the unhealthy fats, that have the potential to be extremely dangerous for the human body if consumed frequently. The most carefully watched fats are saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are the lesser evil of the two, however-- that does not discount their ability to act as an extreme toxin to our bodies. Saturated fats are fat molecules that lack double bonds between carbon molecules, solely because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Snacking on foods high in saturated fat will undoubtedly lead to high levels of LDL cholesterol; which surely increases the chance of developing heart disease and/or stroke. Avoiding highly processed snacks, fatty meat, and sugary beverages is the key to steering clear of a diet concentrated highly in saturated fat.
As for trans fats, there are two breeds; naturally occurring and artificial. The naturally occurring trans fats are found in “the gut” of animals, so it is found in fatty meat and dairy. Artificial trans fats are produced by the process of hydrogenation; the addition of hydrogen to liquid oils to make the fats more solid and able to withstand a longer shelf-life. Various companies get very sneaky with their nutrition labels when it comes down to trans fat content. Although we may assume a food item is safe to eat because the label claims to have “0 grams of trans fat,” that may not ring true. Companies are able to minimize the serving size to claim that their product does not contain trans fats, for that given serving size. As long as the company lists “partially hydrogenated oil” or just the words “partially hydrogenated” anything, they are not required to list that there are any trans fats within the product. This is terrifying, since trans fat consumption raises bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and even type 2 diabetes! Trans fat is the most dangerous fat, so it’s incredibly important to detect hydrogenated products, even if the label claims that “there’s no trans fat.”
Overall, snatch up the items high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, and steer clear of anything containing high concentrations of saturated fat, or has “partially hydrogenated” on the label. Know your labels and save your heart!