Fats have a bad reputation, yet they are indispensable for nutrition. It depends on which fats you eat: saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids or trans fats.
Along with carbohydrates and protein, fats are among the vital building blocks of nutrition. They provide valuable fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself and ensure that it can absorb fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, fats are flavour carriers; they bring a lot of flavour to our food. It is important to distinguish which fats are healthy and which are unhealthy.
What are bad fats?
Fats that contain a lot of saturated fatty acids are considered unhealthy. These are mostly found in animal foods. You can often recognize fats because they are solid and not liquid. In addition, they are usually easy to heat. These foods contain “bad” fats:
Meat and sausage
high-fat dairy products such as butter, cream or cheese
Frying fats (such as coconut oil and clarified butter)
Finished products and highly processed foods of all kinds
Too many saturated fats are bad for your health
“The big disadvantage of these fats is that they cause cholesterol levels to rise sharply if we consume too much of them. They can thus pose a significant health risk,” says nutritional physician Dr. Silja Schäfer. Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes can be the result.
What are good fats?
By “good fats,” we mainly mean unsaturated fatty acids. They are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are liquid and found in vegetable oils, such as olive or canola. Because the body can produce them itself, they are not essential. The polyunsaturated fatty acids are different: the body cannot produce some of them, so it relies on taking them in with food. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, are particularly important. The diet should therefore include foods that contain many polyunsaturated fatty acids. These include:
- Oils like linseed oil, rapeseed oil
- natural nuts, seeds and kernels
- fatty sea fish (salmon, mackerel)
Salmon provides valuable omega-3 fatty acids and is, therefore, very healthy.
The “good” fats are necessary for many processes in the body. Unsaturated fatty acids make it possible to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, reduce high cholesterol levels, and positively affect cell walls, the brain and blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flaxseed and fish, are particularly valuable, as are omega-6 fatty acids, primarily in sunflower and safflower oil. Too much omega-6, however, harms the body and can promote inflammation. That’s why nutritionists increasingly recommend omega-3-containing canola oil instead of sunflower oil.
Trans fats increase cholesterol levels
Fast foods such as burgers, French fries and ready-to-eat pizza contain trans fats. They are formed when unsaturated fatty acids are industrially highly processed and heated strongly or repeatedly, for example, during baking or deep-frying. These trans fats increase cholesterol levels and can lead to cardiovascular diseases. If there is permanently too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, deposits form on the walls of the blood vessels, a condition known as arteriosclerosis. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Recognize and avoid trans fats.
Vegetable margarine is not always healthier than butter made from animal fat. This is because some types of margarine also contain trans fats. The ingredients list often identifies these as “hydrogenated fats” or “partially hydrogenated fats.” Caution: Trans fats can also be produced unintentionally in your kitchen if heat-sensitive unsaturated fats, such as certain vegetable oils, are heated too much when frying or deep-frying.
Trans fats also increase the appetite for unhealthy foods. Unfortunately, the body does not signal that it is full but wants more. This also explains the repeated reach into the chip bag.
Tips for a healthy diet with fats
You should pay attention to what fats you eat for a healthy and balanced diet. Good fats can be integrated into your daily routine with a few simple measures.
choose vegetables rather than animal fats
avoid trans fats, especially convenience foods, baked goods and chips
prefer to cook, bake or make vegetable chips yourself
use olive oil or rapeseed oil for cooking
for frying at high temperatures, use heat-resistant fats such as clarified butter or virgin coconut oil
use linseed oil or nut oils in cold dishes, for example, for salads
buy animal products such as butter, cheese, milk and meat of organic quality; these have a more favourable fatty acid pattern
eat fatty fish such as salmon once or twice a week
regularly eat nuts, seeds, olives or even avocado in salads or as snacks.