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Let’s Talk About Good Fats/Bad Fats

Schematic detail of adjoining saturated carbon...

This is the first of a three part article on the benefits of fats, what to purchase, and how to properly cook with fats and oils.

Fats are important elements in our diet that provide not only energy for our cellular activity, but also components used to make hormones and immune system fighters.  They also provide the building blocks for our cell membranes including our brain cells.

Good fats have a different molecular structure than bad fats.  All molecules have electrical properties that enable them to attract other molecules to perform a specific function, i.e. breaking down food in digestion, making sexual hormones, or making immune system fighting cells.

The formation of the bonds is important in how we utilize fats for good or not.

Fat molecules are made up of chains of carbon atoms with attached hydrogen atoms along with other components such as glycerol and acids.  Each design performs a specific function in the body.

Some of these carbon chains have double bonds whereby two carbons bond together leaving a space without a hydrogen atom.  The placement on the chain of these double bonds is important to health.

Molecules with all their carbon atoms matched with hydrogen atoms are called saturated fats – meaning they are fully saturated with hydrogen.

Saturated fats form a straight chain of atoms in their structure, can pack together tightly, and thus become solid fats such as butter and lard.

Molecules that do not have all their carbon atoms matched with hydrogen atoms are unsaturated.  When there is one carbon double bond, the molecule is monounsatured.  If there are a few unmatched carbons, the fat is called polyunsaturated.  If there are many unmatched carbons, the fat is called superunsaturated. These molecules do not form straight chains, but rather kink at their open sites.  This disables packing up of chains, and thus these fats are liquid and are called oils.

Saturated fats provide energy, calories, heat.  Some saturated fats, depending on the length of their chains construct cell membranes, break down into unsaturated fatty acids, and store some as fat for later energy needs.

Unsaturated fats attract oxygen, help generate electrical currents, help transform light energy into electrical energy and into nerve impulses.

It is easy to recognize that our bodies need all types of fats for proper functioning; however, the amount we ingest makes the difference in good health or bad health.

All types of fats from cholesterol, triglycerides, saturated fats, and oils are necessary for optimal brain health as these form the cellular membranes in brain cells as well and provide fuel for brain function.  The brain is composed of approximately 60% fat and burns most of the glucose we ingest.  It is important to understand that the composition of cellular membranes reflects in the types of fats we ingest.  Saturated fats provide strength and structure to cell membranes while oils provide flexibility.  This enables the transfer of appropriate nutrients into cells and waste materials out of cells, therefore a balance of each is essential.

Next week I will explain which fats and oils are the best for us to purchase and consume for optimal health. Following then will be information on the proper way to cook using saturated fats and oils.   In the meantime, remember that highly processed and refined foods contain harmful and damaged fats.  Refrain from these and you will begin to feel better.

Krystle Shapiro is a licensed massage therapist and is completing her masters degree in holistic nutrition.  She can be reached at 208/290-6760.

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