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What Are Fatty Acids?

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Why is olive oil good for you and coconut oil not?

Both substances are fats, but the difference lies in their chemistry. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, whereas coconut oil is rich in saturated fats. It all comes down to how many hydrogen atoms are linked to each one of carbon in the fatty acid chain, thus having different physiological and chemical effects in your body.

We won't bore you with the chemistry of fatty acids but we will tell you which fatty acids are good for you and which aren't. Knowing the difference will help you make better food choices, thus helping you reduce the risks of suffering from chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.

From saturated to polyunsaturated

Fatty acids, which are the building blocks of fats, facilitate biochemical processes in the body. There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Your body needs a balance of these three types of fatty acids to function properly. All oils and fats in our diet contain more than one type of fatty acid.

It's well known that, when consumed in excess, saturated fats induce the body to produce cholesterol in greater amounts than required. These abnormal blood cholesterol levels are one of the greatest risk factors in atherosclerosis. (Animal-based products such as meat and milk, and tropical oils are high in saturated fats). Excessive amounts of polyunsaturated fats may affect the body's immunological defenses. (Seafood and corn, safflower and sunflower oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids). However, when you consume a third of your recommendad daily fat intake from saturated fat and a third from polyunsaturated fat, there are no risks to your health.

Lastly, the monounsaturated

Monounsaturated oils such as olive oil, consumed for centuries in Mediterranean countries, may help prevent cardiovascular disease through its possible link with the so-called good cholesterol levels (HDL). They also trigger less of the bad cholesterol levels (LDL). Canola and nut oils are also high in monounsaturated fatty acids.

All in all, total consumption of fat shouldn't be more than 30% of your total daily calories. Within this percentage, the different types of fatty acids should have an equal participation, being especially careful that the saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids don't exceed each one third of the total.

Once again, the keyword is BALANCE.

*Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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