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Articles Fitness Nutrition

Unsaturated Fats & Your Body Chemistry

Oct 13, 2009

There are many different kinds of fatty acids that might cross your plate. Most of them are going to fall into the categories of saturated fats or unsaturated fats. One is widely considered to be bad for your body (saturated), while the other is often called a healthy fat. The difference between the two is in their chemical composition.

The Two Kinds of Fats

Saturated fats are chains of carbon atoms where each link in the chain can hold a full hydrogen atom. Think of a people walking in a line, each carrying a backpack full of hydrogen. They are saturated with hydrogen on their carbon chain. This results in fats that are solid at room temperature, like lard and butter.

Unsaturated fats are missing a few hydrogen atoms on their carbon chain. The unsaturated hiker train has a few people whose backpacks have no hydrogen. This makes the fat unstable in its chemical composition, which accounts for their liquid state at room temperature.

Health Begins in the Bloodstream

The reason saturated fats are considered less healthy than unsaturated fats is because of how they behave once they’ve entered your bloodstream. They like to seek each other out, and then stick together. This bonding eventually leads to plaque, the kind that clogs arteries. Unsaturated fats don’t do this. They are made of big molecules that slide around in your bloodstream without sticking to each other, thus not forming plaque. Using unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats will help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

How Much Saturated and Unsaturated Fat Should You Eat?

It is difficult, and in fact unnecessary, to completely avoid saturated fats. They are used in many processed foods because their stable quality allows food to be kept fresh and stored longer. They are also present in most animal-based food, such as meat and whole milk dairy. However, the American Heart Association recommends that only seven percent of your daily calorie intake should be saturated fats.  The rest of your fat intake, (which should be 30 percent of your daily calories) should be from unsaturated fats.

Where to Find Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated fats are found mainly in fish and plant-based foods. These foods include:

  • salmon
  • trout
  • herring
  • avocados
  • olives
  • walnuts

It also includes liquid vegetable oils such as:

  • soybean
  • corn
  • safflower
  • canola
  • olive
  • sunflower

It is important to remember that these food are not a free ticket; they are still caloric and still “fattening.” But, they are preferable to foods containing saturated fats, and can be substituted for them for better health. For instance, there is evidence to suggest unsaturated vegetable based imitation butter, like margarine, is more heart healthy than its real-butter counterpart. The more liquid the margarine, such as tub margarine or just liquid, the less saturated it is.

Fat is necessary to the human diet, though usually not in the amounts most people consume it. When choosing which fats to eat, try to let unsaturated options take precedence. Remember, liquid at room temperature means less plaque and a healthier heart.

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