Unsaturated Fats: A Dicey Choice

Contrary to saturated fats, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. As the name implies, unsaturated fast are created from triglycerides, with fatty acids having unsaturated double bonds between carbon atoms. To qualify as unsaturated fat, at least one unsaturated double bond between carbon atoms must exist. Unsaturated fatty acids double bonds are “cis” or “trans”, which loosely translates into “same side” and “opposite side”.  Both refer to the orientation of fatty acid chains around double bond. In “cis” bond, fatty acid chains are on the same side of the double bond. In “trans” bond, fatty acid chains are on opposite sides of the double bond. In a simple analogy keeping both arms  up or both arms down – is “cis”. Taking one arm up and keeping the other one down  – is “trans”. Magic – no. Different position – yes.

Both types of double bond have their purpose, but as a rule of thumb, it is always better to go for cis and widely avoid trans fats. While they may contain some combination of both, the configuration of double bonds in unsaturated fatty acids is almost always cis. Unsaturated fatty acids with the least number of trans bonds are better for us.

They are two types of unsaturated fats:

a)     Monounsaturated fats

  • Have only one double bond
  • Found in nuts, tea seed oil, olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, macadamia nut oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, corn oil, popcorn, whole grain wheat, cereal, oatmeal

b)    Polyunsaturated fats

  • Have more than one double bond
  • Found in nuts, seeds (sunflower, hemp), fish, algae, leafy greens, krill, peanut butter

Due to double bonds, unsaturated fats are less stable, have lower melting temperatures and are liquid at room temperature. They are more sensitive to oxidation, which is why they often go rancid faster.  The greater the number of double bonds the less stable the fat, the lower its melting temperature and the more prone to oxidation it is. And while we may need to keep  an eye on our oils, these properties bring some really good metabolic perks. Our body works hard to get energy and prefers to keep things practical and reasonable. It likes fats that take less effort to break down.  So as far as body is concerned unsaturated fats are better- they are less stable and easier to break down.  Following the same logic, the shorter the unsaturated fat chains the easier its breakdown and the more our body likes it. And let’s face it – what is easier to rip into – a ton of marble or a bucketful of  jello? See what I mean…

Unsaturated fats are easier to digest and make a healthier fat choice. To get the best unsaturated fat for your money, it pays to investigate which food is a better source.

Different foods have different profile of  the two unsaturated fat types. For example of all foods olive oil has the highest amount of monounsaturated fats at 73%, while pumpkin seed has the lowest at 16%. Other examples include grapeseed oil at 60%, hazelnuts  at 50%,  almonds at 35%,  cashews at 28% and sesame seeds at 20%. A lot of times unsaturated fat profile will affect the texture and taste of food.

So now when we know some unsaturated food profiles the next logical question is – which one is better for us – the monounsaturated or the polyunsaturated fat?  Generally – the monounsaturated fat is. It is proven to reduce risk of heat attack and stroke.  Eaten in low amounts it provides multiple benefits such as healthy skin, cells proliferation, breast cancer and colon cancer protection and immunity system support due to high content of phyto-chemicals and phenols.

In conclusion,  unsaturated fats make a perfect choice for meeting out dietary fat needs,  as long as their intake is controlled.

To find out more about great sources of monounsaturated fats, visit Herbal Diet, your local health food dealer.

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