In today’s fat-phobic society, it’s easy to be misled into believing that fats and oils are bad for your health and can lead to high cholesterol and weight gain. However, when these are eaten correctly, they can be incredibly beneficial for our health. To make it easy, it’s best to separate oils and fats into three different groups; saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. All fats and oils are made up of different percentages of these three groups, and depending on the dominating group, this can determine how the fat or oil is best eaten and produced.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products such as butter and lard, with the exception of coconut oil. These are fats that are hard at room temperature and are also the best to fry or saute with as they are able to withstand high temperatures without oxidising and denaturing. Whilst, these fats should be eaten in moderation, they have some important health benefits such as helping to stabilise our blood sugar and supporting our brain health (1).
Monounsaturated fats can be found mainly in foods such as avocados, olive oil and nuts and seeds. The health benefits of monounsaturated fats are vast, studies show they have a positive impact on our cholesterol levels by lowering our Low Density Lipoproteins LDLs and maintaining our High Density Lipoproteins HDLs (2), which is more favourable for our cardiovascular health. In addition, these fats have been shown to be great for supporting the health of our blood vessels and preventing heart disease and type two diabetes (3,4).
There are two separate types of polyunsaturated fats. There are those that can be found mostly in oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts, called Omega 3 fatty acids and there is also Omega 6, which is mostly found in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil. Omega 3 fatty acids are incredibly good for our health. They help to lower inflammation and keep our blood pressure stable (5,6). Whilst Omega 6, is also good for our health, we need less of this oil in our diet and should focus more on getting Omega 3. This is because our diet is already abundant in Omega 6, which in too large doses can sometimes lead to inflammation (7). Oils such as those listed above should also never be cooked with, this is because they are very vulnerable to heat and light and therefore oxidise when exposed to high temperatures. Oils such as flaxseed, sunflower and safflower should only be eaten cold and raw to maintain their health properties.