Fats facts: everything you need to know about fats.
May 13th 2019
In general, when you ask people about what they know about fats in food, their response is simply: “They’re bad for you”. That’s a gross oversimplification of course. The truth is a lot more nuanced and complicated. There are various different types of fat, with confusing names and complex roles in nutrition. In this blog, I’ll try to demystify the facts about fats, debunk some fat-related myths, and hopefully teach you a bit about how fats in food can be good for you!
Why do we need fat?
Fat is a great source of energy. It provides 9kcal per gram, as opposed to 4kcal per gram for Carbohydrates and Protein. It’s also an essential building brick for your body, used in a multitude of different systems. The fat stored under your skin helps protect you against cold and physical impacts. Lastly, some vitamins are fat-soluble, and your body needs fat in order to be able to process and absorb these vitamins.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
Before we dive into each type of fat separately, let’s first paint with a broad brush and classify the various kinds of fat into three types:
- Unsaturated fats are the good.
- Saturated fats are the bad.
- Trans fats are the ugly.
Before we can get into why this is the case, I need to explain a bit about cholesterol:
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is not a fat, though in the general vernacular it is referred to in that way. In reality, cholesterol is a sterol. Like fat, it is an organic compound that does not dissolve in water. The overarching name for such a compound is a lipid. Fats, oils, sterols, waxes, and triglycerides are all sub-categories of lipids. In general though, when people are talking about lipids, they just say “fats”. This is part of what is causing the confusion with fats in food.
Cholesterol is an essential part of any person’s diet. Cholesterol is an important part of the cell membrane, in hormones, and for our gallbladder. It is also a building block for our central nervous system. Cholesterol is transported through the blood by binding it to proteins in the blood. The connections making these bindings are called lipoproteins.
There are two kinds of these lipoproteins. You’ve got your LDL (Low-Density Lipoproteins) and your HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins).
HDLs are great for you. They take any excess cholesterol and transport it to the liver, where it is broken down and excreted as waste. In this way, HDL helps clean your arteries and keeps your heart in top shape.
LDLs are the bad type. They transport the fat from the liver to the rest of your body. Too much LDL and the fat is dropped off all throughout your arteries, literally clogging your arteries and heart with fat. In the medical field this is called Atherosclerosis. Having too high a level of LDL cholesterol is called Hypercholesterolemia. Being hypercholesterolemic is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
So on the one hand, you need cholesterol, but on the other hand, you want to keep your cholesterol level in check. Because HDLs reduce the level of LDLs in your blood, the general rule is: As long as you are ingesting more HDL (the good kind) than LDL (the bad kind), you’ll do just fine.
On to the fats!
What are saturated fats?
Saturated fat is also known as “solid fat”. That’s because it is solid at room temperature. It is mostly in animal foods (meat, milk, and cheese) and tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil).
Saturated fats are bad because they cause your LDL-level to rise. (LDL was the bad kind of lipoprotein!) This means more risk of your arteries clogging up.
The advice given by governmental guidelines for saturated fat is: Make sure at most 10% of your caloric intake is from saturated fats. That comes down to 23 grams of saturated fat for a 2100kcal diet.
What are trans fats?
Trans fats, also known as (partially) hydrogenated fat is “the ugly”. It takes everything that’s bad about saturated fats, and makes it worse. There is really no good reason to eat any trans fats.
Why then is it in our food? Well, for one, it makes things super tasty! The process of hydrogenation makes the fat harder at room temperature. It makes snack foods such as chips nice and crispy, and gives that satisfying crunch to your fast-food French fries.
The advice given by governmental guidelines for trans fats is: Don’t eat them. Just don’t…
What are unsaturated fats?
Now, let’s dive into the complicated world of unsaturated fats. This is the fat that is sometimes referred to as “good fat”. It is liquid at room temperature, and it’s mostly found in oil from plants or fatty fish.
Unsaturated fat can be sub-divided again, into Monounsaturated fat and Polyunsaturated fat. The latter can be subdivided again, into Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Let’s take a look at all of this one step at a time:
This fat is in nuts and olive-, canola-, and peanut-oil. It deals a double health whammy of lowering your LDL-level (the bad kind) whilst simultaneously increasing your HDL-level (the good kind).
This fat is mostly in sunflower-, flaxseed-, and fish-oil. Eating Polyunsaturated fats instead of Saturated fats will lower you LDL-levels (the bad kind).
Polyunsaturated fat can be sub-divided into Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS.
This is the kind found in fish and some plant-based oils. It can be subdivided again into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), but I won’t go into that. Aside from lowing your LDL-levels, it is also connected with improving mental state.
The advice given by governmental guidelines for omega-3 fatty acid is: 450mg per day.
OMEGA-6 FATTY ACIDS.
This is the kind found in vegetable oils like soybean-, and corn-oil. Omega-6 is also known as ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid). Aside from lowering LDL-levels, it is also connected with maintaining healthy skin.
The advice given by governmental guidelines for omega-6 fatty acid is: 4,5g per day based on a diet of 2100kcal.
So, as a quick summary, fat can be subcategorised into:
- Saturated fats - Too much is bad for you.
- Trans fat - Just plain bad.
Unsaturated fat - The good fat. This helps keep you healthy!
And the unsaturated fat can be subdivided into:
- Monounsaturated fat - Good for your heart and arteries.
- Polyunsaturated fat - Omega-3: lowering LDL-levels and improving mental state & Omega-6: lowering LDL-levels and retaining healthy skin.
We need fats in our diet, as they are a great source of energy, help with the absorption of vitamins, and provide essential fatty acids we need to stay happy and healthy.
It is important to keep a close eye on the types of fat you eat though. Their effects on your cholesterol LDL- and HDL-levels are extremely important. As a general rule: Eat more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, and avoid trans fats altogether.
What about Queal meals?
So, how does Queal stack up against these facts and figures? Pretty darn well it turns out
Regarding “the bad” saturated fats, Queal has 2.95gr per meal. That is well below the maximum 7.67gr allowed by EFSA regulations.
For “the ugly” trans fats; Queal has virtually none! So that’s just great.
With “the good” unsaturated fats, Queal has 5gr of monounsaturated fats per meal, and 7.67gr of polyunsaturated fats per meal, again all nicely within EFSA recommendations. Of the essential fatty acids Omega-3 and Omega-6, Queal has 33% and 50% of Dutch RDA per meal respectively.
If you want to learn more about the nutritional content of Queal, and how it relates to the Recommended Daily Intake guidelines, take a look at our other nutrition blog posts!
Written by our CEO Floris Wolswijk, originally published on March 23rd, 2016.Shop Queal meals