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The Different Types of Fats and Which Foods They Are In

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Most of the types of fats contained in different foods are essential for the body. In addition to providing the most significant amount of energy to the body, they play a crucial role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), the production of different hormones, or the expression of genes.

Energy From Fat

The Healthy Food Pyramid

Each gram of fat consumed is equivalent to 9 kcal. (more than double the calorie count of proteins and carbohydrates), so its consumption in the diet should be limited. Also we really need to take into account the type and quality of fat in food. We need to ensure they are in the right amounts and always depending on the type of fat in question. In this sense, the recommendations established by the health authorities determine that the amount of fat that can be ingested daily in a diet that is considered balanced should provide 20 to 35% of the energy contained in it. Of course, the proportion of the different types of fat should be as follows:  

  1. 10% saturated fat
  2. 20% monounsaturated fat
  3. 5% polyunsaturated fats  

Exceeding these amounts opens the way to becoming overweight or obese and increased cardiovascular risk, diabetes, high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, and even some types of cancer.

Types of Fat

When it comes to maintaining these recommendations the main problem is knowing what types of fat exist, which foods they are found in, and what are the benefits or risks of each of them:

Sources of saturated fats

Saturated fats: this is the type of fat that can induce an increase in low-density lipoproteins (LDL or bad cholesterol) and, therefore, consumed in excess, cause an increase in cardiovascular risk. They are found in products of animal origin (meat, eggs, and dairy) and also in certain vegetable oils (palm, coconut, palm kernel, and cocoa butter) that are used in the manufacture of pre-cooked foods, snacks, and industrial pastries. These oils are often masked on product labels under the generic name of vegetable oils. In a diet of 2,000 kilocalories, the intake of these types of fats should not exceed 20 grams.

Closeup of industrial pastries, Brownie and Cookies, Trans fat foods

Trans fats: these are the most dangerous, and yet they are commonly consumed without knowing it. Not only do they increase the concentration of LDL in the blood, but they also reduce high-density lipoproteins (HDL or good cholesterol), which makes them even more harmful than saturated fats for cardiovascular health. They are most commonly found in industrial foods (biscuits, industrial pastries, some pre-cooked, and fried foods). They are produced by hydrogenating the fats used in their manufacture to facilitate the production process or to provide specific characteristics to foods, such as, for example, margarine should be soft and easy to spread. Only products that contain 0.5 grams of this type of fat per serving are required to be present on the label, so it is easy to ingest them without knowing it. They are also found naturally in small amounts in the milk and body fat of ruminants. We should not exceed two grams of trans fat in a 2,000-kilocalorie diet.

Food sources of monounsaturated fats, eg olive oil, walnuts, oily fish etc

Monounsaturated fats: this is the type of fat found in olive oil and is part of other vegetable oils (rapeseed, peanut, etc.) and dried fruits, such as hazelnuts. They can also be found in vegetables such as avocado and in oily fish. This type of fat exerts a cardioprotective effect, to the point that its high content in the Mediterranean diet is related to an increase in life expectancy.

Mediteranean diet contains polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats: although they are found in vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, sesame, or soy), as well as in legumes, nuts, and fish (salmon, sardines, or mackerel), the truth is that some polyunsaturated fats can be synthesized by the body, with the exception of the so-called essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6. The latter exerts a protective effect on the arteries, preventing the formation of atheroma plaques (arteriosclerosis), therefore reducing the risk of suffering cardiovascular and cerebrovascular accidents.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are present in plant-based foods like canola oil, walnuts, soybean oil, and flaxseeds. They are also found in fish and shellfish. A healthy diet includes 8 ounces (227 g) or more of these types of fish per week, with an average of 250 mg per day of these omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are present in liquid vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil.

Tips for Consuming Different Fats

Selection of healthy fat sources on wooden background.

Knowing what type of fat each food in the nutritional pyramid contains is essential to maintaining a balanced diet. The tricky thing is to calculate the proportion of each of them based on the food eaten. In any case, international recommendations focus on the following aspects:

  • Reduce the consumption of meat.
  • Increase the consumption of fish and especially those with a high content of essential fatty acids.
  • Eat fresh food and thus avoid the consumption of trans fats.
  • In the case of milk, choose semi-skimmed or skimmed. And control the number of dairy products.
  • Use preferably olive oil or sunflower oil when preparing food.

Bottom line:

Consuming fat is not bad as long as we are consuming the correct levels. Remember that different types of fats are stored in the adipose tissue of the body, and when we consume more of any of the types of fat than we need, we will be storing the excess fat in our body. It would help if you spoke to a nutritionist to be able to take a moderate consumption of these biomolecules.

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