What are dietary unsaturated fats? If you read my earlier posts, you would answer that they are fats (triglycerides) found in food that have predominantly fatty acids with at least one carbon-to-carbon double bond. Unsaturated fats tend to be oily at room temperature. They are most abundant in vegetable sources.
Their involvement in modulating our bodies’ inflammatory response makes them especially important. They have been associated with protection against cardiovascular disease. Scientists divide them into two categories based on the number of carbon-carbon bonds. They are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are considered non essential; however, studies have shown that they provide protection against certain kinds of cancers. Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil. Brazil nuts, peanuts and pecans have a high percentage of these fatty acids in their content.
Polyunsaturated fats have a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Oils pressed from safflower, corn, wheat germ, soy bean, cottonseed and sesame seeds are rich on PUFAs. Walnuts are also a good source of PUFAs or polyunsaturated fats.
Some of them contain essential fatty acids (the body cannot manufacture them) like linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid. Deficiency of linoleic acid results in dermatitis and other hormonal abnormalities. It is found in nuts, seeds and whole grains. Alpha linolenic acid can be found in flaxseed and canola oils. It can also be found in lingonberries which is an abundant and popular fruit in northern Europe. Alpha linolenic acid is also an omega 3 fatty acid. (More about omega-3 fatty acids on my next post).
THE UGLY: Because of their chemical structures when PUFAs are oxidized in the body, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that damage tissue. They are associated with aging and disease. So it is important to note that if you supplement or have a diet high in PUFAs, you need to add antioxidants in your diet.
The most potent and studied antioxidants in the market are vitamins A, C, and E, the mineral selenium and enzyme CoQ10. Also, you must keep oils and food items high in polyunsaturated fats stored away from light and contact with air to prevent oxidation.
Finally, remember that fats are calorie dense. So whether you choose to eat saturated or unsaturated fats, if you over consume them, YOU will get FAT. So, eat the food items that contain healthy unsaturated fats, but make sure you don’t over do them.
Next post: What are 0mega 3 fatty acids and why are they so important in our diet.