Fats are an important part of our diet. But which fats are healthy and which ones are unhealthy? What should you look out for when eating fatty foods?
In comparison to proteins and carbohydrates, fats provide the most energy and are also carriers of fat-soluble vitamins, which the body cannot produce itself and therefore must be ingested through food. Fats also serve as carriers of flavours and aromas and are therefore jointly responsible for a pleasant taste. However, not all fats are equally healthy for the human body. Fats are characterized by a common chemical framework. The so-called fatty acids are an essential component. There are either one, two or three fatty acids in a fat molecule. Among other things, they differ in regard to the degree of saturation. Moreover, these differences in the chemical structure largely determine the quality difference between fats as far as the human body is concerned.
Fatty acids can be divided as follows:
- Saturated fatty acids
- Unsaturated fatty acids
Fatty acids can be saturated or unsaturated. Fatty acids are called saturated when all the theoretically possible binding sites for hydrogen atoms are occupied. In the case of unsaturated fatty acids, one possible bond to two adjacent carbon atoms is not occupied by hydrogen. Chemically one speaks of a so-called double bond. Depending on whether the hydrogen atoms are on the “same side” or on the “opposite side” of the carbon atoms, linked by a double bond, one speaks of a cis- or a trans-configuration.
Unsaturated cis fatty acids have a more voluminous structure, while those with a trans configuration have a similar elongated and slim structure as saturated fatty acids. In practice, this has the effect that a fat with many mono- and polysaturated cis-fatty acids is softer or more fluid than a fat with the corresponding proportions of saturated or trans-fatty acids.
The energy intake from fat should consist of one third of saturated fatty acids and two thirds of unsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids
Saturated fatty acids are found in meat and sausage products, milk fat, butter and palm and coconut fat.
Animal fats, e.g. Butter, fatty meat and sausages and lard contain more saturated fats than vegetable oils. Of the latter, coconut fat contains larger amounts of saturated fats. Saturated fatty acids can be formed in the body, among other things, from glucose (dextrose) or amino acids. The frequent consumption of saturated fatty acids can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Red blood cells can clump together more, which reduces the transfer of oxygen to the cells. An excess of saturated fatty acids in the phospholipids of the cell membranes leads to them becoming too inflexible to fulfil the normal functions of the cell membranes. Furthermore, an increased intake of saturated fatty acids can increase the cholesterol level in the blood. On the other hand, the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids can help in lowering the cholesterol concentration of the blood. The average total cholesterol level as well as the LDL and HDL levels of the healthy normal population vary from country to country and are also age and gender dependent. There is a positive correlation between blood cholesterol levels and body mass index.
But what is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a crystalline, fat-like natural substance found in all animal cells. It is vital for humans and animals. An elevated cholesterol level does not cause any symptoms. Blood tests are the only way to become aware of the increased blood lipid levels. A high cholesterol level over a long time period can lead to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), whereby the risk of a heart attack or stroke increases.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Studies have now shown that cold-pressed olive oil lowers cholesterol levels and thus the risk of cardiovascular diseases, has a cancer-preventive effect and can even help you lose weight. Today, fat and health research are in full swing. Experts agree that it is primarily unsaturated fatty acids that are useful in a variety of ways in the human body.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are mainly found in plant foods and vegetable oils; some of them are widely used in our diet. Like all natural fats, they have their advantages. The body relies on polyunsaturated fatty acids to form the special class of omega fats. Certain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential because the body cannot make them itself and therefore, they have to be supplied by food.
You can find monounsaturated fatty acids in the following foods:
- Olive oil
- Rapeseed oil
In contrast, polyunsaturated fatty acids, for example, in these foods:
- Sunflower oil
- Soybean oil
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
The omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid and the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are essential. They cannot be built up by the body itself and therefore must be ingested with food. Omega-6 fatty acids, for instance, are found in corn, sunflower, safflower and pumpkin seed oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in rapeseed, hemp, linseed, soybean or walnut oil and in fatty fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring and domestic cold-water fish such as char). Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of increased triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. Omega-6 fatty acids counteract the risk of fat metabolism disorders. It's the ratio that counts!
The development of mankind is based on a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2: 1. In our western menu today however, the ratio is often between 10: 1 and 20: 1. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can, in a way, be described as a moody couple: ideally they complement each other perfectly, but if the ratio is not right, they are each other’s worst enemies. Therefore, it is very important to consume both fatty acids in an optimal ratio. Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats use the same proteins and biochemical processes to convert them into substances that are useful for the body. If a fatty acid group dominates, it "sucks up" all resources (enzymes and micronutrients) and thus occupies all conversion capacities. In this way, they affect the by-products that are formed. As a result of an excessively high omega-6 level, first of all the inflammatory response is misregulated. Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are the precursors for hormone-like substances (called eicosanoids), which control the body's inflammatory response. The ratio of these two types determines the ability to respond well or poorly to inflammation. In addition, the content of omega-6 and omega-3 in the cell membrane determines the structure of the cell and its ability to communicate, replicate and to build up the organ structure, blood vessels and the central nervous system. Science shows that if you eat the right fats, you can lose weight, reduce inflammation, and effectively treat heart disease, type II diabetes and many other chronic conditions. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are also of great importance for inflammatory rheumatic diseases, since these polyunsaturated fatty acids regulate inflammatory processes. While arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, has an anti-inflammatory effect, omega-3 fatty acids are the anti-inflammatory counterpart.
The recommended intake for adults is 2.5% of the daily energy intake for linoleic acid (approx. 6-8 g) and 0.5% for α-linolenic acid (approx. 1.5 g). A ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of 5: 1 or less is desirable, therefore one should not consume too many omega-6 fatty acids.
5 tips for balanced fat consumption:
- Prepare your food yourself! This is the only way you can be sure which fats you are consuming.
- For the most part, abstain from milk fat, butter and products with palm fat! One sandwich and a glass of milk (3.6%) on a daily basis meet the need for saturated fatty acids.
- Make yourself a breakfast consisting of cereal with low-fat yoghurt and add fruits, nuts and seeds. We recommend hemp and chia seeds (30g each). A measuring spoon of our Weight Loss Shake adds that special something to your meal for the perfect start to the day.
- Avoid fatty candy like milk chocolate! Our slim capsules can help you alleviate your feeling of hunger and prevent food cravings.
- Include vegetables and plant-based products at the top of your diet and don't eat meat more than twice a week. Chicken and fish are very low in fat, as is beef in comparison to pork.
Not all fat is the same. Only 10% of your daily energy intake should come from fat from butter, milk or coconut. "Healthy" fats can be found in fish and plant-based products as well as nuts and seeds. You can find more dietary information and tips in our blog!