To trim the confusion between saturated and unsaturated fats, we can put them into terms that help you make wise food choices. There are first three basic types of fats you need to understand when looking at saturated and unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and saturated fats (SATFAs) MUFAs and PUFAs are good fats; SATFAs are bad fats. How do you tell a good fat from a bad one? The good fats (MUFAs and PUFAs) are like oil. They flow through your arteries. The bad fats (SATFAs) act like sludge, sticking to the arteries. FA’s are chemically known as fatty acids, but we just call them fat.
What makes a good fat a healthy fat and a bad fat an unhealthy one has to do with the chemical structure of the fat called saturation. The fat molecule is composed mostly of hydrogen atoms attached to carbon atoms in a carbon chain. On this molecule there are open spaces, like parking spots. When all the available spots, or parking spaces, on the carbon atom are filled (i.e. saturated) with hydrogenated atoms, the fat is said to be saturated. If one or more places on the carbon are not filled with hydrogen, the fat is called unsaturated. A fat molecule with one empty space is called a monounsaturated fat, and is found in such foods as olive oil, canola oil, and nut oils. If two or more spots on the atom are empty, the fat is known as a polysaturated fat, or, which is found primarily in vegetable oils and seafood.
Saturated vs. unsaturated fats
At room temperature, some fats are solids (such as butter and lard) while some are liquids which are usually oils. A saturated fat is solid at room temperature; an unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature.
Whether or not fats help or harm the body depends upon their degree of saturation, and here’s why. Unsaturated fat molecules (MUFAs and PUFAs) are a curved molecule with negative charges that repel each other so they don’t stick together, resembling little bits of popcorn in a popper. Because these molecules don’t stick together, they flow – both in the food and in the arteries. The molecules of a saturated fat are flat. They pile up like pages in a book and stick to each other. MUFAs and PUFAs are liquid at room temperature; SATFAs are solid at room temperature. Consider for a moment the fat molecules in your bloodstream. Do you want them to flow like oil or clump together like butter in your body?
Another interesting fat fact is that your body makes all the SATFAs it needs. Yet, the body needs oiling. It needs MUFAs and PUFAs, which are why these fats are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). Your body can’t live without them. While it can’t live without MUFAs and PUFAs, we will live a lot longer if we eat less SATFAs.
Fat Tip #1: Eat more MUFAs and PUFAs and less SATFAs
NUTRITIP: The Two F’s of Healthy Skin – Fish and Flax
Your skin may reflect a fatty-acid deficiency. If your skin feels dry and flaky and has an unhealthy look, add flax oil, salmon, and tuna to your diet several times a week. If a few months of eating more of these foods high in essential fatty acids makes your skin feel smoother and softer, your skin is telling you that your body needs more EFA’s.