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Types of Fats: From Shellfish to Soybeans
Your dietitian will help you figure out which fats best give your body energy and which ones are just dead weight. Read on to learn what it means for a fat to be healthy.
The Bad Guys
If food fight meant something quite different than it does, one of the big battles would be between saturated and unsaturated fats. While this terminology refers to the different ways their atoms are bonded together, there is a way to tell the difference without tossing a pie into a particle accelerator: saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Lard and butter are obvious examples, but there are also vegetable sources. These fats possess more LDL cholesterol, a waxy substance that is hard for the body to break down efficiently and eventually builds up in arteries.
Their upside, at least to food manufacturers, is that they remain shelf-stable for much longer. That’s why trans fats—unsaturated fats that have had hydrogen added to them and become saturated—are a popular additive in processed foods.
The Good Guys
Unsaturated fats aren’t just comparatively less bad for you; they’re necessary. Without some fat, our bodies can’t process essential nutrients. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are found in higher quantities in oils and plants. There’s a distinction within this category, also based on the number of chemical bonds in their molecules. Monounsaturated fats are thought to help maintain insulin levels and control blood sugar, but it’s polyunsaturated fats that have really come into vogue—specifically, omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help do everything from control blood clotting to build brain cells, and a rash of recent studies have proposed further benefits including stroke protection and bowel function. Humans can only get these acids from food, so they should seek out sources such as soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed, as well as shellfish, salmon, tuna, and trout.