Types of Fat: Lipids, Fats & Oils

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There are many types of fat, and you will be forgiven for being confused. Below you will find a run-down of the lipids, fats and oils, together will a brief explanation of each.

Basically speaking the types of fat that you will encounter can be divided into three general categories: Triglycerides, Phospholipids and Sterols. Let’s take a look at each category and its relative subcategories:

Triglycerides - (fats and oils) This is the main form of fat in the diet. Triglycerides provide us with energy, insulates, cushions and protects internal organs and helps our bodies use carbohydrates and proteins more efficiently. Triglycerides can be further divided into the following categories:

  • Saturated fats
  • - Usually solid at room temperature, saturated fats contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms (saturated with hydrogen). Saturated fats are considered the most detrimental to health.
  • Monounsaturated fats
  • - Liquid at room temperature, monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils. This type of fat tends to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol while leaving the "good" HDL cholesterol unchanged.
  • Polyunsaturated fats
  • - Liquid at room temperature, polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. This type of fat tends to lower both "bad" LDL and "good" HDL cholesterol.
  • Hydrogenated fats
  • - This fat results from a process where hydrogen atoms are added back to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats to protect against rancidity . This procedure effectively causes hydrogenated fats to become saturated fats. Thus, if a food lists partially hydrogenated oils among its first three ingredients, it usually contains a lot of trans-fatty acids and saturated fats.
  • Trans-fatty acids
  • - In nature, most unsaturated fats are cis-fatty acids. During hydrogenation, the molecular structure changes from cis- to trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids increase "bad" LDL cholesterol and lower "good" HDL cholesterol, which may increase heart disease risk.
  • Essential fatty acids
  • - Essential fatty acids must be supplied by the diet. The body uses essential fatty acids to maintain the structural parts of cell membranes. They are also used as a component in the production of hormone-like substances (eicosanoids) that help regulate blood pressure, clot formation, and maintain the immune response.
  • Linoleic Acid
  • - The Omega-6 family. Common sources for these essential fatty acids are vegetable oils and meats. Most individuals can ensure an adequate intake of Omega-6 fatty acids by including grains, seeds, leafy vegetables, and small amounts of vegetable oils and meats in the diet.
  • Linolenic Acid
  • - The Omega-3 family. Linolenic acid is a major component of the communicating membranes of the brain, and is active in the eye's retina. It is essential for growth and development. Fish, in particular, is abundant in both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

    Phospholipids - (eg. lecithin) Phospholipids help transport fat-soluble vitamins, hormones and other substances through cell membranes. Because they can dissolve in both water and fat, they act as an emulsifier, helping to keep fats suspended in body fluids and blood. The liver can produce all the body's phospholipids from scratch, therefore it is not an essential nutrient.

    Sterols - Sterols include cholesterol, vitamin D and sex hormones. They are a component of bile, sex hormones (testosterone), adrenal hormones (cortisol) and are a structural component of cell membranes. 9/10 of the body's cholesterol is stored in cells.

  • Cholesterol
  • - The liver manufacturers about 800-1500 mg. of cholesterol per day, which contributes much more to total body cholesterol than does diet. The liver can also make cholesterol from carbohydrates, proteins or fat. Excess cholesterol harms the body when it forms deposits on artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Cholesterol can be further divided into HDLs and LDLs:
  • Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
  • - Considered "bad" cholesterol. It is produced in the liver and circulates through the body, transporting fat to the muscles, heart, fat stores and other tissues.
  • High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
  • - Considered "good" cholesterol. It is produced by the liver to carry cholesterol and phospholipids from the cells back to the liver for recycling and/or excretion. Because HDLs represent cholesterol removal from arteries and blood to the liver for breakdown and disposal, it is considered "good" cholesterol. Therefore, high levels of HDL cholesterol is considered a negative risk factor

    So now you have seen some of the many types of fat contained in our foods, as well as within our body, and hopefully you will now be able to identify the ones that should be reduced if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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