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Nutrition Basics: What Are Fats?

Posted by HealthyMuslim on Friday, October 17, 2008
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Basic Make up of fats

Fats are one of the three basic food categories along with proteins and carbohydrates. As fats have a higher carbon and hydrogen content compared to carbohydrates they have a higher energy content.

Fats are made up of glycerol and fatty acids, and fatty acids are to fats as amino acids are to proteins, in other words they are the building blocks of fats. Fatty acids can also vary in length in terms of how many carbon atoms they have in the chain.

Fats are used in the body as a source of energy, as insulation for organs and nerves and to regulate fat soluble vitamins (such as A, D, E and K).

Saturated, Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

You may hear these terms often and wonder what they mean.

Saturated fats have the maximum number of hydrogen atoms in the fatty acids.

Unsaturated fats are the fatty acids in whose carbon chain there is at least one double bond which means that there will be fewer hydrogen atoms.

Polyunsaturated fats have two or more of these double bonds whilst monounsaturated fats have just the one.

Saturated fats are found mainly in animal fats, and they are usually solid at room temperature.

Hydrogenated fats such as margarines are not good for you. You should avoid them and use butter instead. You also have hydrogenated oils (like vegetable oils), these are partially saturated - and they are not good for you at all. Unfortunately many people use these oils for cooking and frying, and at such temperatures these oils break down into harmful substances and also increase inflammatory responses in the body (which are tied to heart disease).

As for saturated fat coming from meat - where you have animals that are totally pasture fed, and are free from growth hormones and antibiotics and from artificial or non-pasture feed, then the resultant meat (and dairy) will be greatly superior.

Polyunsaturated fats are found mainly in nuts and seeds and their oils. But remember, refined vegetable oils are not good for you, as they contain and produce trans-fats, harmful things.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an example of polyunsaturated fats which are beneficial for your health, however as polyunsaturated fats are subject to oxidation (due to light and air), they should be consumed quickly and not kept in storage for long times.

This matter will be expanded upon in future articles in this series.

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