Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids - What Exactly Are the Differences?
The most important points in brief
- We consume both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids through food.
- These acids influence our body in different ways.
- While unsaturated fatty acids are almost always positive for cholesterol, saturated fatty acids have a negative effect.
- The basic rule is: vegetable fat is healthier than animal fat.
Today, when we think we know everything about good or healthy nutrition, it is an almost natural reflex when we immediately flinch when we hear the words "fat" or "fatty acids". This is not necessary because there are two types of fatty acids - and only one of these two is harmful. You can find out how fatty acids affect our organism in this article.
Where fatty acids occur
Fatty acids are found in a great many foods, and when you think of the classics that contain fat, you are not wrong at all. Meat and sausage are just as rich in fatty acids as various oils (such as rapeseed oil, hemp oil or olive oil) and nuts. But avocados also contain fatty acids, just like chia seeds or flax seeds. Butter, cheese and other dairy products too, of course.
But these fats and fatty acids cannot be lumped together. A rough subdivision emerges - at least from the outside - through the question of whether the fatty acids are of vegetable or animal origin. For fatty acids with a vegetable background, with a few exceptions, they are good for the cholesterol level. However, this cannot be said for animal fatty acids. There are also vegetable fats that also contain saturated fatty acids, for example coconut oil.
There is no such thing as one cholesterol level
However, one should not make the mistake of assuming that the cholesterol level is only made up of a fixed value. In fact, there are two levels of cholesterol. And that would be:
- HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, a high-density lipoprotein) that carries cholesterol to the liver and is commonly seen as good cholesterol because it reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack
- LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), which the other way round transports cholesterol from the liver into the body and is considered bad cholesterol because it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis.
Simply put, animal fats and fatty acids increase our body's bad cholesterol, LDL, while lowering good HDL. The influence on the total cholesterol value is very negative.
Not all vegetable fatty acids are good for our HDL
The following rule of thumb applies: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids are okay, omega-6 only to a limited extent. At the same time, this means that not all vegetable fats are good for HDL if they are consumed on a large scale, as some of them contain a lot of omega-6 (animal fatty acids anyway). Consumption of these foods is not harmful in principle, but only if the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 tilts too much towards omega-6.
As a rule, it is recommended that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in food intake should not exceed 5: 1, preferably 2: 1. Only then does omega-3 fatty acid manage to reverse the negative effects of omega-6 fatty acids in terms of the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. In order to cover the omega-3 value, you should consume as much wild-caught fish, walnut oil, chia oil and especially flaxseed or linseed oil and soy oil as possible. Omega-6s are also found everywhere here, but the ratio of the two fatty acids is a healthy one. A large selection of essential fatty acids in food supplements is available here.
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