Fats: A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Scenario

Recent news from McDonald’s is-they are eliminating Trans Fats from the french fries. Whoo hoo! But I wonder what kind of fat will it be replaced with? Some fats are good, some are bad. In this article, allow me to clear up some of the gray areas on fat consumption, it’s negative effects and it’s benefits.

All fat molecules consist primarily of strings of carbon atoms to which hydrogen atoms can link; in a saturated fat, every carbon in the chain has as much hydrogen attached to it as possible (the fat is “saturated” because no more hydrogen will fit). Unsaturated fats have less hydrogen; trans fats fall somewhere in the middle and are created when unsaturated fats undergo partial hydrogenation, a process which adds some hydrogen without fully saturating the fat.

There are two types of the “BAD” Fats: Saturated and Trans. As noted on Slate.com, nutritionists are still debating whether saturated or trans fat is worse for you. Saturated fats–which you’ll find in steak, ice cream, and butter–have been studied for decades, while trans fats–present in doughnuts, fries and margarine–have been under scrutiny for only the last 10 years. Both have been proven to increase low-density lipoprotein, your “bad cholesterol” indicator. LDL transports cholesterol–a waxy substance that helps rebuild cell membranes and create hormones, among other things–from the liver to the rest of the body, where it can accumulate in arteries and cause heart disease.

One thing that helps keep LDL in check is the “good cholesterol” indicator, high-density lipoprotein, which carries cholesterol back to the liver. This is where saturated fat starts to look a little better: It increases cholesterol indicators across the board, so HDL levels rise as well. Trans fat, however, raises LDL while reducing HDL levels, and this dangerous double whammy has set nutritionists on alert.

Trans fats may also be guilty of numerous secondary sins: There are some indications that they could increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, and even cause pregnancy complications. That’s why the FDA will not put a recommended daily allowance next to the new trans statistic–any amount of this stuff is bad for you.

There are two types of “GOOD” Fats: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fats contain monounsaturated fatty acids that lower blood cholesterol and is typically stored in liquid form when it is at room temperature. When refrigerated this healthy fat turns into a solid formation.

Your blood cholesterol is lowered by increasing the HDL (good) cholesterol, and lowering the LDL (bad) cholesterol. For some people, monounsaturated fatty acids also contribute to lowering triglycerides. Excellent sources of monounsaturated fats are olives, olive and canola oil, peanuts, peanut butter, and all other varieties of nuts and seeds such as almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.

Found mostly in fish, soy, and walnut, Polyunsaturated fats contain oils that are in liquid form in both room and refrigerator temperature. This type of fatty acid also helps in lowering your total blood cholesterol by decreasing the LDL (bad) cholesterol. Two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are Omega three and the Omega six. These fatty acids are said to contribute to reducing the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cancer. Omega three fatty acids are also known to lower the level of Triglycerides. Primary sources of Polyunsaturated fats are found in a variety of fish such as tuna, trout, herring, salmon, and mackerel. These fatty acids are also found in oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.


Fats provide energy. Gram for gram fats are the most efficient source of food energy. Each gram of fat provides nine calories of energy for the body, compared with four calories per gram of carbohydrates and proteins.

Fats build healthy cells. Fats are a vital part of the membrane that surrounds each cell of the body. Without a healthy cell membrane, the rest of the cell couldn’t function.

Fats build brains. Fat provides the structural components not only of cell membranes in the brain, but also of myelin, the fatty insulating sheath that surrounds each nerve fiber, enabling it to carry messages faster.

Fats help the body use vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that the fat in foods helps the intestines absorb these vitamins into the body.

Fats make hormones. Fats are structural components of some of the most important substances in the body, including prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that regulate many of the body’s functions.

Fats regulate the production of sex hormones, which explains why some teenage girls who are too lean experience delayed pubertal development and amenorrhea.

Fat provides healthier skin. One of the more obvious signs of fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. In addition to giving skin its rounded appeal, the layer of fat just beneath the skin (called subcutaneous fat) acts as the body’s own insulation to help regulate body temperature. Lean people tend to be more sensitive to cold; obese people tend to be more sensitive to warm weather.

Fat forms a protective cushion for your organs. Many of the vital organs, especially the kidneys, heart, and intestines are cushioned by fat that helps protect them from injury and hold them in place. (True, some of us “overprotect” our bodies.) As a tribute to the body’s own protective wisdom, this protective fat is the last to be used up when the body’s energy reserves are being tapped into.

Fats are pleasurable. Besides being a nutritious energy source, fat adds to the appealing taste, texture and appearance of food. Fats carry flavor. Fat is also the reason why cookies melt in your mouth, french fries are crispy, and mom’s apple pie has a flaky crust.

A good guideline is that no more than 30% of your calories should come from fat. Of that, no more than 10% from saturated or trans fats.