We all like food with fats since they are tasty and palatable. However, some fats have a negative effect to our health. Fat can be divided into solid fat (fats) or liquid fat (oil).
Fats can be found naturally in food like meat and milk or can be present in fried or baked foods.
Chemically, fats can be subdivided further into saturated, Trans fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are simply fats that have a chemical structure in which the carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fatty acids are found mostly in animal fats (including dairy products). Few vegetable fats are saturated; these are palm and coconut oil.
Trans fats are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils (mainly vegetable oils) into solid fats e.g. shortening (e.g. in Kenya the popular Kimbo cooking fat is a cooking shortening fat) and hard margarine. Trans fats are manufactured by a process called hydrogenation. Simply, hydrogenation is a process by which vegetable oils are converted to solid fats by adding hydrogen atoms. Hydrogenation was a process invented to help increase the shelf life of oils by reducing susceptibility to oxidation and becoming rancid.
Trans fats were developed to be used in place of saturated fats that were thought to be responsible of clogging arteries which lead to heart attack.
Trans fats and Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature.
An unsaturated fat is a fat or fatty acid in which there are one or more double bonds in the fatty acid chain. The carbon atoms in their chemical structure are not saturated with hydrogen atoms.
Unsaturated fat is usually liquid at room temperature.
Which fats are harmful to our health?
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
Why are saturated and Trans fats harmful to our health?
Saturated fats and Trans fats are regarded as dangerous to our health because they raise ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL- low density lipoprotein). Bad cholesterol is thought to form plaque or form a layer inside arteries. This layer narrows the arteries’ diameter thus leading to blockage. This can cause heart attack or strokes.
Which is worse: Trans or Saturated fats?
Saturated fats raise levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol in our bodies. On the other hand the Trans fats lowers HDL. Thus Trans fats are regarded as the worst. However, both saturated and Trans fats cause almost equal harm to our health. This is because we eat more of saturated compared to Trans fats.
Sources of Trans fats and saturated fats.
Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Majority of Trans fat are formed when food manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine.
A small amount of Trans fats are found naturally, primarily in dairy products, some meat, and other animal-based foods.
The main sources of saturated fat are animal products such as meat and whole-milk dairy products such as cheese, sour cream, ice cream and butter.
Plant-based sources of saturated fat are coconut oil and coconut milk, cottonseed oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, and palm oil.
Are all fats bad?
Not all fats are bad. But all fats are high in calories if your concern is weight gain. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — found mainly in canola (rapeseed oil), olive, and peanut oils are regarded as good fats which are unsaturated and low or have no Trans fats. In addition they are associated with low LDL and more HDL production in the body.
How can I cut down on ‘bad’ (saturated and Trans fats) fat?
It is important to generally reduce the amount of fat you eat and watch the types of fat you consume. Fats are high in calories. All sources of fat contain 9 calories per gram, making fat the most concentrated source of calories compared to carbohydrates and protein have only 4 calories per gram.
Small changes can make a big difference. For example,
– grilled chicken breast without skin contains a third less saturated fat than with skin.
-Choose meat with less white fat on it.
-Control the amount of oil you add to food by measuring out oil with a spoon instead of pouring it straight from the bottle.
-Avoid re-using the oil that solidifies after first use. If it solidifies it implies it has undergone hydrogenation and it is a saturated fat. Hydrogenation could have resulted to formation of Trans fats.
– Try and replace saturated fats like butter, lard and ghee with small amounts of unsaturated fats such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower or corn oil (although some of these are more expensive e.g. olive oil).
– Choose low and lower-fat varieties of dairy foods such as semi-skimmed, 1% fat milk or skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurts and low-fat cheeses.
-Use vegetable based sources of spices such ginger, pepper, garlic, basil to add flavour to food than using creamy and salad dressings
-Increase intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables
-Eat foods high in good fats, such as oily fish for omega-3, and limit foods that are high in dangerous saturated fat, such as cakes and pastries.
– Check the nutrition labels on food to see if it is low in fat and how much of the fat is saturated fat. Saturated fat may be referred to as sat fat or saturates on food labels.
-Avoid chips in restaurants since you do not know the fat used to prepare them.
– Grill meat (barbeque or choma) rather than frying.
-Avoid food products which have the words “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” in the ingredients list. If the words “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” are in the ingredients list, it does contain trans fat.
Who should be concerned about the health dangers of Fats?
Everyone should try to limit their consumption of fats due to the high calories levels. If you have to take fats, reduce or eliminate consumption of trans fats and saturated fats (or foods high in these).
Detrimental healthy effects of fat are not a problem of lovely girls who are obsessed with their body figure. It is a responsibility of all of us to watch what we eat.
Which fat do I recommend?
The following are some of the ‘good’ fats that I would recommend if you have to use fat sparingly during frying of food. The order that I represent them is more or less how good they are.
- Good Cooking Oils:
- olive oil (a little bit expensive)
- canola oil (rape seed oil)
- sunflower oil
- corn oil
- safflower oil
- flax seed oil
- peanut oil
- non-hydrogenated soft margarine
The following “bad” fats contains high levels of trans fat or saturated fats. Therefore, I would discourage their use.
- Bad Cooking Oils:
- Vegetable shortening
- Hard margarine
- Palm oil
- Palm kernel oil
- Coconut oil
Examples of fats commonly used in Kenya
Vegetable hydrogenated cooking fat.
Vegetable hydrogenated cooking fat
Unsaturated vegetable oil. However solidifies after first use.
Hydrogenated cooking fat.
Hydrogenated cooking fat.