We have all heard that reducing oil content in one’s diet is necessary for both weight loss and good health. But how many people know the difference between Polyunsaturates Monounsaturates and Saturates? What is the difference between a saturated fat and an unsaturated fat, and why should I even care? Hearing or reading those oil related words is like speaking to me in Chinese. I can’t read it, don’t understand it and certainly can’t write it. This article is intended to simplify what these words really mean and what that translates into in terms of the products we buy and how our body uses them. By the time you are done reading this article you will not only understand the lingo and the difference between types of oil fats, you will actually remember them and the next time you hear a news story or read an article mentioning one of these types of fats or oils, your brain will click with the “a-ha” experience of “Yes grasshopper, I understand”.
Let’s look at the first tier of understanding fat. That means first let’s determine whether a fat is saturated or unsaturated.
Saturated Fats are Animal fats. Say it again. Saturated Fats are Animal fats. Saturated Fats are Animal fats. What is an animal fat? It is a fat that comes from an animal. Butter. Cream. Whole milk, lard. These are major sources of saturated fat. Saturated fat is the least healthy kind of fat. It raises your cholesterol and is capable of causing many health problems if eaten in high quantities. So now say to yourself Saturated Fats are Animal fats. Saturated fats are bad, bad bad bad. And as Nancy Reagan would have said about drugs, “Just Say No” to saturated fats!
Unsaturated Fat is a type of fat that is generally taken from plants. It is healthy fat because it reduces bad cholesterol (LDL is the bad cholesterol). Unsaturated fat raises the level of good cholesterol (HDL is the good cholesterol). Foods high in unsaturated fats are GOOD for your body and your health. Examples of foods high in UNsaturated fats are most vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and many varieties of fish.
So, before we move on let’s digest this by saying it again. Saturated Fats are Animal fats. Saturated fats are bad, bad bad bad.UNsaturated fats are GOOD. An easy way for me to remember this is the word UN. UN makes me think of the word UNdoing. If I make a mistake I can UNdo it. So UNsaturated fats UNDO the BAD. It may seem like a silly exercise, but it works. My brain can make sense of it and digest the words. Saturated is a word we think of as having “too much“, so saturated fat is “too much” fat which equals bad. Unsaturated fat means it UNDOES the bad, so it is good! Now that your brain has absorbed this information like a 6 year old, we can move on to the bit more complex.
All oils and fats are 100% fat, however the components or parts that make up the structure of the fat or of a particular oil is what determines whether a given oil or fat is considered good or healthy, when consumed in moderation. All edible and cooking oils, regardless of whether it is a “healthy” oil, has a lot of calories, so this is why it is advised to consume it in moderation.
UNsaturated fat, which is the “Good” fat, comes in two kinds: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated. Let’s look at the difference between these two types of “Good” fats that are UNsaturated.
Monounsaturated Fat (UNsaturated)
Monounsaturated fat is usually in a liquid form at room temperature, but it may begin to solidify when chilled. Monounsaturated fat is the most desirable type of fat in the diet. Think of bottled Italian dressing made of olive oil and red vinegar. You store the opened bottle in the refrigerator and the oil part becomes thickened and when you go to use it again you either give it a good shake or let it sit for a couple of minutes to become room temperature again to be fully liquefied.
Good sources of monounsaturated fat include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil.
Polyunsaturated Fat (UNsaturated)
Polyunsaturated fat is usually in a liquid form at room temperature and also in a chilled state. The main sources of polyunsaturated fats are seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetables. Have you ever used Tahini? Tahini, which is a creamy paste, made from sesame seeds and sesame oil, is a key ingredient to making hummus dip. If you have ever seen a jar of Tahini you can see the liquid lying on top, which is the sesame oil. So, even if chilled in the refrigerator, the liquid, which in this case is Polyunsaturated Fat is liquid even in a chilled state. Some polyunsaturated fat that is especially healthy because it contains Omega-3 fatty acid.
Omega-3 fatty acid reduces heart disease and lowers blood pressure and not only fights cholesterol from building up in the arteries, it also helps your brain to keep sharp. Omega-3 fatty acid is found in all fish and creatures of the sea. It is especially found in high content in sardines, tuna, herring and salmon. Plants that produce oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids are flax seed, canola, and soybean oil.
Now look at the words Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat. They both have the word UN in them. MonoUNsaturated Fat. PolyUNsaturated Fat . UNsaturated. So if you hear the words MonoUNsaturated or PolyUNsaturated you will remember the word UN as in UN doing and UNsaturated fats UNdo the bad. UNsaturated fats are GOOD fats. I bet you will remember this all now!
Now that you are an expert in understanding the UN word as being GOOD fat, and that Saturated fat is BAD, there is one more word you need to learn and that is Hydrogenated.
Hydrogenated Oils are a saturated fat. Saturated fat means BAD fat. When hydrogen is added to a vegetable oil to change the liquid into something solid at room temperature, that is known as hydrogenation. Hydrogenation transforms the unsaturated fats of the liquid oils into saturated fat. Trans-fatty acid, also known as trans-fat, is when the UNsaturated fat has been TRANSformed into a Saturated fat. BAD BAD BAD. Someone has perverted the good fat into bad fat! Think shortening, think margarine. HIGH in trans-fatty acids means BAD BAD BAD. So why do we even have Trans-fatty acids, you ask! The answer is simple, because by making something hydrogenated, it keeps a product from turning rancid or spoiled quickly and the commercial food industry needs to create products with longer shelf life.
So there you have it. Natural vegetable oils are essential to good health. UNsaturated fats are good when consumed in moderation, and fats derived from fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids are EXCELLENT for your improved health. Saturated fats are bad for you, however if you are aware of something being a saturated fat, then you will be discriminating about your fat and oil choices and you will know which ones are extremely important in terms of restricting the amount you consume. Now next time someone talks about fats, oils and Polyunsaturates, Monounsaturates and Saturates, or you need to understand the ingredients of a food you are buying, you will feel empowered with the confidence of your knowledge. And adding omega-3 fatty acids will keep your brain retaining this knowledge when you are a super healthy senior citizen!