Healthy Fats: What Fats Does My Body Need?

Omega 3, 6, and 9, saturated and unsaturated fatty acids: what are healthy fats and what are unhealthy ones? What foods contain them?

Fat is unhealthy – this principle no longer applies today. Because numerous studies have shown that the body urgently needs certain fats to absorb nutrients, generate energy, and protect itself from diseases.

What is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids?

All fats contain both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids (components of fats) – albeit in different proportions. The difference between these two types is their molecular structure: the individual atoms of the fatty acids are held together by a pair of electrons. If two pairs of electrons act as a link, it is called a double bond. Unsaturated fatty acids are characterized by at least one such double bond. The so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more such double bonds.

Healthy or unhealthy fats?

Until a few years ago, the following was true: while unsaturated fatty acids (especially in vegetable and fish fats) help to prevent a heart attack or stroke, saturated fatty acids (especially in animal fats except chicken and fish fat) increase the harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood and increase its risk of cardiovascular disease. But a 2015 Canadian analysis of 73 studies on saturated fat dispelled the bad reputation of fats: It found that they neither increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease nor the likelihood of heart disease stroke or type II diabetes.

That said, nutrition experts advise eating saturated fat with caution, because the type of food also affects how the fatty acids it contains affect the body. Cheese and sausage both contain saturated fat. However, according to studies, high consumption of cheese lowers the risk of diabetes, for example, while high consumption of sausage tends to increase this risk. On the one hand, this difference is probably because cheese contains different saturated fatty acids than sausage. On the other hand, the other ingredients of the food probably play a role: cheese, for example, is rich in valuable proteins and calcium.

What are omega fatty acids?

The so-called omega fatty acids belong to the group of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are divided into three groups Omega 3, 6, and 9. The numbers provide information about the positions of the double bonds in the structure of the fats.

What can omega-3 fatty acids do?

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in the body: the cells obtain energy from them – they are also used to form the cell membrane (cell wall). Once the omega-3 fatty acids have been ingested through food, they go through chemical conversion processes – in the end, substances are produced that the body needs to stay healthy. One of them are so-called prostaglandins (tissue hormones), which protect the body from inflammation – the cause of many chronic diseases and cardiovascular diseases. These fats also have a positive effect on mood and skin health. The daily requirement can be covered by just one tablespoon of linseed oil.

What are omega-6 fatty acids?

Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are involved in controlling inflammatory processes and thus support the immune system. They are contained in many foods (e.g. sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable margarine) and the daily requirement of ten grams is quickly covered – which is why there is rarely a deficiency. It’s more likely to result in excess fat: when this happens, the excess omega-6 fatty acids begin to turn into substances that promote inflammation. For this reason, experts advise using olive oil (which consists mainly of omega-9 fatty acids) for daily needs and coconut oil for high temperatures instead of sunflower or rapeseed oil.

What is behind omega-9 fatty acids?

Omega-9 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids. Unlike the polyunsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they do not have to be ingested through food, but can be produced in the body from other fatty acids. Nevertheless, an additional intake of these fatty acids through food is health-promoting: They strengthen the heart, lower the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase that of “good” HDL cholesterol. Omega-9 fatty acids are found in olives, walnuts, almonds, and avocados, among other things – one study showed, for example, that one avocado per day noticeably lowers cholesterol levels.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are the culprit among fats. They belong to the group of unsaturated fats and are produced industrially, mostly from vegetable oils. The liquid oils are converted into solid fats in chemical processes – hence the name “hardened fats”. Trans fats are mostly found in processed foods like french fries, baked goods, frozen foods, and instant soups — but they’re also formed when oil is heated in a pan.

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