Published August 12, 2015

Everyone has heard that unsaturated fat is the best fat for our health and saturated fat increases our cholesterol.

But what is the difference and why is one better or worse?

Saturated refers to all the carbons being "saturated" or bound to hydrogens. While unsaturated implies that some carbons are not bound to a hydrogen. Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats (one carbon does not have a hydrogen) and polyunsaturated fats (multiple carbons do not have a hydrogen).

Monounsaturated fats refer to olive oil, avocados, pecans, and almonds. Polyunsaturated fats include fish, omega 3 or 6, canola, and flax. While Saturated fats include butter, milk, and animal fats.

In our diet, fat is mostly found in the form of a triglyceride. Tri=3 (fatty acids) Glyceride= glycerol that is associated with the 3 fatty acids. Our body also likes to store fat in this manner and often times the combinations of the three types of fat are likely. One triglyceride can have a monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fat. For example in an egg: 39% is saturated fat, 43% is monounsaturated and 18% is polyunsaturated. 

Now, it has been studied and proven that high levels of some saturated fat lead to cardiovascular and heart health risks, cancer, diseases and more. But it has also been studied and researched that some saturated fats lower bad cholesterol levels. Other factors such as high sugar levels and poor balance between saturated and unsaturated fats.  So we cant just assume all saturated fats are bad. There is more to consider than saturated v. unsaturated fat.

In regards to chemical structure. Here is why its important: Saturated fats are more rigid due to the the hydrogen bonding. If you have heard the phrase " you are what you eat" you know that our bodies break down our food (like fats) then incorporate them into our cell structures.

Back to high school bio and chemistry. We have a phospholipid bilayer in our cell membrane and our skin. That is partially why we do not soak up water like a sponge. Lipid is a type of fat, thus we have fats/fatty acids/trigylcerides in our cell membranes. 

Back to my point, because Saturated fats are harder to break down and are more rigid, so when they are used to build new cell membranes they will have a different effect compared to a more pliable unsaturated fatty acid membrane. Our cells are constantly communicating and sending messages. If the cell membrane is mainlycomprised of saturated fatty acids, these two functions will become drastically more difficult. Unsaturated fatty acids allow the membrane to become more "fluid" for nervous system function, communication, immune health, cardiovascular function, and more. 

What about trans fats?

A new ruling from the FDA just required foods to be trans-fat-free in 3 years. Why are these fats bad?

"Trans" fats get their name because unlike other fats they have a "trans" configuration. You get this configuration virtually only from industrial fat processing. In this process, an unsaturated fat is taken and hydrogen ions are added (partially hydrogenated oil ring a bell? these are indicative of trans fats and also really bad!) This changes the chemical structure into the "trans" position. 

Going back, saturated fats are solid at room temperature- butter compared to unsaturated fats like olive oil which is a liquid. 

Trans fats turn an unsaturated fat into a saturated fat increasing shelf life and flavors. Thus helping food companies make more money!!!

The structure of a trans fats prevents it from folding in on itself and thus they have to pack very tightly into our cells. and scientisst have found that this causes an increase in cardiovascular, heart, and chronic disease, as well as cancer. 

It is very important to balance fats and have saturated fats and unsaturated fats. As long as the balance is there and there is no abundance of saturated fats, saturated fats are not a bad thing. 

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