A lot of health articles on the Internet tend to blur the lines between cholesterol and fats thereby leading to confusing deductions from readers. As a result, many people have begun to consider fats and cholesterol as one and the same. While both of these constituents can be found in animal protein, they are vastly dissimilar in nature.
Fats – What Are They?
Fats are important to the human body and its internal functions, simply because they store the maximum concentration of energy in them. One gram of fat provides 9-calories. Now, compare that to proteins or even carbohydrates, and the best energy output that you can get from a 1-gram sample is just 4-calories.
Apart from energy reserves, fats also serve other useful purposes in the body. For example, vitamin A, D, E and K are known as fat soluble vitamins because they need fats to be absorbed into the body. Fats also provide linoleic acid to the body. This essential fatty acid is needed for metabolism, growth and general maintenance of the skin.
Types Of Fats
So, the problem seen with consumption of fats really boils down to the type of fat that is contained in them. Now, there are different types of fats that a certain food type may contain. They can be saturated fats or unsaturated fats. In the unsaturated category, there is further delineation as to monosaturated and polysaturated fats.
Then, there are trans fats which are essentially man made fatty acids and not produced readily in nature. Here is a look at the different fat types.
- Saturated Fats: These are primarily found in animal products and remain in solid state at room temperature. Cheese, butter and bacon are a few foods that come loaded with saturated fats. Apart from this, certain vegetable products like palm oil, coconut oil and solid shortenings also contain saturated fats. These fats tend to increase LDL or bad cholesterol level in the blood which consequently leads to heart diseases.
- Unsaturated Fats: Both monosaturated and polysaturated fats are considered to be unsaturated by nature mainly owing to their nature of hydrogen bonding. From a food science perspective, unsaturated fats are better preferred in a healthy body as opposed to saturated fats. Monosaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil among other things while oils derived from corn, soybean, sunflower and sesame seeds have a high degree of polysaturated fats in them.
- Trans Fats: These are man-made fats wherein the process of hydrogenation of polysaturated fats is achieved by help of nickel catalyst. Trans fats are neither healthy nor natural and therefore should be avoided at all costs.
Essential Fatty Acids
EFA or essential fatty acids play a very important role in the body. They are simplistic structures of fats, but are different from all other fatty acids simply because they cannot be produced in our body. They can only be replenished in the system by consuming foods that contain EFA. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are fatty acids that are needed to keep the body in general and organs like the liver in particular fighting fit.
Cholesterol – Where Does It Fit In?
Technically, cholesterol as well as fats falls into the category of lipids meaning that they do not dissolve in water. Lipids also include oils, waxes, triglycerides and different types of sterols. Considering how the word lipid has almost become similar to fats in the current day vernacular, it would not be wrong to say that cholesterol too is a type of fat. However, cholesterol is very different and far too complicated in structure than any of the fats around.
Now, cholesterol unlike EFA is produced within the body and it is carried within the bloodstream via lipoproteins. So, it really does not need to be pushed into the system through high cholesterol foods. Typically, LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) and triglycerides are the ones that need to be cut down while HDL (High Density Lipoproteins) are needed to ensure that excess cholesterol is being flushed out of the system.
The Harmful Effects Of Saturated Fats And High Cholesterol
Nutritionists and physicians alike believe that build up of fatty materials in the blood vessels is attributed to the increased presence of LDL, triglycerides and saturated fats in the blood. These elements tend to deposit on the surface of blood vessels and block the normal flow of blood through the arteries. This elevates the blood pressure in the vessels and therefore gives rise to a gamut of problems like hypertension, heart diseases etc.
If you want to lead a healthy life then it is vital that you check what you eat. Avoid eating foods that contain lots of saturated fats and cholesterol content in them. Instead, concentrate on a balanced diet which has requisite quantity of EFA, and unsaturated fats along with other nutrients in it.