Dietary fats. Who is who

 
 
 

Dietary fats, all that are eaten as food, are a major source of energy, make food palatable, facilitate the absorption of vitamins and are crucial to proper development during the early stages of life and childhood. Fatty acids (a main component of these fats), besides, are needed for metabolic and structural activities throughout our lifetime… But some fats also play a big role in cholesterol levels. It’s necessary to know who is who.

The most common dietary fatty acids have been subdivided into:

  • Saturated. Mainly provided by animal (butter, lard, lamb, pork, milk and cheeses), but also present in coconut, cocoa butter and some tropical oils. All contain cholesterol.
  • Unsaturated
    • Monounsaturated: marine oils and most animal and vegetable oils.
    • Polyunsaturated: the most important are arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid present at low levels in meat, eggs, fish and algae) and eiocosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), omega-3 fatty acids present in fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardine, herring and anchovy.

In addition, the human diet contains trans fatty acids fats originating from milk fats and processed or fried foods. These fats also raise blood cholesterol.

It is essential to bear in mind, in addition to total fat intake, the type of fatty acids that we consume. Replacing the intake of saturated fatty acids by polyunsaturated fatty acids may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Not all fats are the same.