Actually, Yes! Let’s first consider what Fat is.
Basically it is a storage product. It stores energy whether it is in a Brazil Nut or in a Panda Bear. Fats in the body also provide insulation from cold weather and help in the absorption of certain nutrients like fat soluble Vitamins A, E and K.
FAT CALORIE: A Calorie is a measurement of nutrient energy, usually in a gram of food. A gram is about a quarter teaspoon in size. One gram of Fat equals 9 calories and one gram of sugar (carbohydrate) or of protein equals 4 calories. Therefore Fat stores twice as many energy-calories as sugar or protein. Recommendations for Fat in the diet are about 20% to 35% of daily caloric intake. For every 1000 calories in the daily diet that would be about 22 to 40 fat grams per day.
OIL vs. FAT: When a Fat is liquid at room temperature it is called “Oil” and when it is solid at room temperature it is called “Fat”. In general, vegetables are the sources of Oils like: safflower, olives, canola, avocadoes, peanuts and sunflower, etc. Animal products are the source of Fats like: butter and cheese from cow’s milk and lard from meat drippings. The exceptions to liquid and solid rule is Coconut Oil which is a vegetable source and is solid at most room temperatures, but it melts quickly with a little heat, as low as 76 degrees F (24 degrees C).
SEEDS, NUTS and FISH: What determines that a Fat is “good”? In the diet it is usually liquid, an Oil, from a vegetable source such as seeds – like sunflower and flaxseed, nuts, avocados and coconut. There are some herbs that are high in good fats such as primroses and borage. Good fats also found in deep sea fish such as Tuna, Swordfish, Mackerel, Herrings, Sardines or Salmon. It is believed that the coldness of the deep ocean has led to the development of special body fats for these fish.
THERMO-STABILITY and SMOKE POINT vs. RANCIDITY: A factor that determines whether a Fat is “good” is its chemical stability. In Chemistry anything that can change form quickly is considered to be “unstable”. When a fat/oil is unstable it becomes spoiled and it is called “rancid”. In a rancid oil/fat not only have the healthy nutrients disappeared but toxic chemicals can start to occur. In nature the primary ways that foods destabilize and break-down is through exposure to air as: Oxygen (O), heat or light. Therefore proper storage for fats/oils that improve stability is in an environment that decreases the exposure to light, heat and oxygen, such as in the refrigerator. Yet cooking is heat. Oils destabilize as the heat level goes up and also the longer the Oil is exposed to the heat. “Smoke Point” refers to the degree at which the Oil becomes unstable and burns.
Cooking oils that can tolerate higher temperatures and thus have higher smoke points are more stable in approximate degrees Fahrenheit (F). They are: Avocado – 520 F, Safflower – 500 F, Sunflower – 475 F, Soybean – 460 F, Coconut – 450 F, Peanut – 450 F.
Lower temperature smoke point oils and fats in approximate degrees Fahrenheit are: Canola – 400 F, Lard (animal fat) – 400 F, Olive – 370 F, Butter 300 F.
HDL or SATURATION or EFA or OMEGA: A good fat when measured in a medical test is called “HDL”. A good fat when discussing its chemical structure is usually referred to by its “bond saturation” (saturated vs. unsaturated bonds). It is referred to as “EFA” – essential fatty acid, when discussing its potential in the human diet as a nutrient. The “Omegas” refer to different types of food EFAs.
HDL: Cholesterol is a type of fat that your body uses to make hormones (chemical messengers). Cholesterol is manufactured by your body’s Liver so there is no dietary requirement for it. Dietary Cholesterol is found in the animal sources of fat: cheese, butter and lard. Cholesterol is carried in your bloodstream by lipids. Lipid is another word for fat. Your physician can order a blood test to measure your fat and cholesterol levels. Fat studies are further broken down to determine how much is “bad fat” known as LDL – low density lipids and how much is “good fat” known as HDL – high density lipids. A way to remember the difference is “H” in HDL is for “healthy”. In our blood tests, we want to increase our HDL levels and decrease our LDL levels. One simple way to do this is to get the majority of our fat calories from vegetable sources and from deep sea fish.
Research has shown LDL levels are associated with disease such as Diabetes, High Blood Pressure and Heart Attacks. HDL levels are associated with improved health and with protection from inflammation.
SATURATED vs. UNSATURATED: A “Bond” in a fat/oil chemical is an area of high energy. The Bond can release energy for nutrient value or for the performance of a bodily process. Hydrogen links with the bond and releases its energy. An “unsaturated” bond is one that still has energy in it. A “saturated” bond is depleted of energy potential because Hydrogen has linked to it; it has become saturated with Hydrogen. Graphically the appearance of fat-oil bonds is saw-toothed like or similar to the edges a ladies-fan that can open and close, thus “springy”. Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAS) means one springy bond. Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAS) means many springy bonds. The more “spring” in the bond the more liquid the oil and the more potential energy in the food. The less “spring” in the bond in general the more solid the fat and the less that energy is available.
HYDROGENATION and TRANS-FAT: Hydrogenation is the chemical process of adding Hydrogen (H) to a liquid oil to artificially stabilize as a solid and to lengthen its shelf-life. For example Hydrogen can be added to liquid safflower oil to make it solid margarine. Hydrogenation has increased shelf-life but may also make the oil less nutritious and some cases even armful to the body by the creation of an uncommon bond. The food has become an industrial “trans-fat” due to this uncommon bond and does not function as a normal fat-oil.
OMEGA EFAs: There are fat-oils that are necessary in the diet, thus they are called “essential fatty acids” (EFAs). EFAs are necessary for hormone function, and for cell membrane and nerve stability. They are also called Omega EFAs number 3 and 6. The Omegas are found in the same foodstuffs as the unsaturated vegetable and deep sea fish oils. Omega 3 is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Research has shown Omega 3 to have beneficial effect for joint and mental health. Omega 6 is LA (linoleic Acid). There is an Omega 9 but it can be produced by the human body; therefore it is not classified as “essential”.
So food choices for good fats are those from vegetables and deep sea fishes. When you read food labels, look for foods that have lower fat levels, such as those in the 30 per centile or below. When you read labels look for foods with a higher concentration of unsaturated fat, rather than saturated fat. Avoid foods with trans-fats. To cook foods in oil, choose oils that can tolerate higher heat levels, use the low to medium control on the cooktop and cook for shorter timeframes. Lastly, store your fatty foods out of the light and in a cool environment to increase their shelf-life.