Quick Guide to Healthy Fats- In a Nutshell

Guide to Healthy Fats


  •  Dietary Fats: Types, Functions, and Importance in Weight Loss
  • Why Trans Fats are used and its Impact on our Health
  • Smart Substitutions to eat Nuts and Seeds
  • Types of Oil to prefer for Cooking
  • 3 Proven Ways to go Nuts Over Nuts
  • A list of Nuts and Seeds to Swap Processed Foods to Fresh Foods

Guide to Healthy Fats: An Overview

For several years, dietary fat was thought to be the culprit for our deteriorating health. We all shifted to low-fat foods. We minimized healthy fats along with harmful ones.
All fats are not harmful to our body.

Our body requires fat for energy as it is the major source of energy.

Functions of Dietary Fats are:

1. Absorption of some vitamins and minerals
2. Build cell membrane
3. Forms extra-cellular sheath around nerves
4. Blood coagulation and flexible muscles

Color affects human behavior as it affects emotions and attitudes to make a decision. In addition, colors affect the hypothalamus, a region of the brain.

It generates a cascade of the signal to the pituitary gland and endocrine glands. Then thyroid gland releases certain hormones which impact mood, behavior, and decision.

Based on colors of signals, we can categorize fats based on their effects.
Red color denotes the Trans Fats, and you must avoid eating foods that have trans fat in it.

For instance, processed foods such as popcorn and coffee whiteners (mostly contain partially hydrogenated fat).

Tip: Use whole milk or fresh cream

Green color for unsaturated fats like MUFA (Monounsaturated fatty acid) and PUFA (Polyunsaturated fatty acid) to add to your diet.

MUFA are full of nutrients for heart health and maintain a healthy weight. For instance, olive oil, canola oil and some nuts.

They boost metabolism, balances hormones and reduces the risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Yellow color for saturated fats like red meat, cheese fall in between trans fats and unsaturated fats to use in moderation.

How to spot Trans Fats in your Diet:

Trans Fats are artificial fats that are a by-product of a process called hydrogenation. In short, healthy oil is liquid at room temperature is converted to solids during the hydrogenation process.

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The chemical structure of trans fats has the‘ trans’ configuration in it, that means it has only two hydrogen atom on opposite sides of the double bond in carbon chain responsible for health issues.

Trans Fats found in margarine and vegetable shortening (used in baking and cooking). Now, you can easily spot it in processed foods like fries, cookies, burgers, pizza.

In bakery products and canned frosting, all are in partially hydrogenated oils.

Hydrogenated oil is used to increase the shelf life of food products which is  an unhealthy way.

Few studies suggest that vegetable oils like corn, canola and soya bean oil contain about 0.4- 4.2% of trans fat in it. Therefore, try using extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil for cooking.

Notice the ingredients list for the term partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils.

Reasons why Trans Fat affects your health:

1. Increases bad cholesterol (LDL)
2. Decreases good cholesterol (HDL)
3. Increase inflammation to cause heart disease and stroke
4. Insulin resistance and cause type 2 diabetes
2% of a dietary trans fat increase risk of heart disease by 23%.

Saturated Fatty Acids (SFAs) or Saturated Fats:

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Image source

Saturated Fat has no double bond carbon atom with more hydrogen surrounding carbon atom.

Like cheese, butter, red meat, coconut oil, whole milk, and its products increase cholesterol level.
It is recommended to limit saturated fat to 10% of total calories a day.

Bottom line: It is possible that saturated fats can cause inflammation and elevates level of hsCRP. In some cases, it does not. The results are mixed.

hs-CRP: High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein is a marker of inflammation such as bacterial infection, trauma or neoplastic activity. A hs-CRP strong indicator of risk of CVD.

Tip: Use of vegetable oil and high-fiber carbohydrates or PUFA may lower inflammation markers levels.

MUFAs and PUFAs – Healthy Fats

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                                            Image source

MUFA and PUFA are an unsaturated fat that has a bend with a double bond in ‘cis’ configuration and less hydrogen in its chemical structure. More is the double bond, higher is the bend, and arachidonic acid has four double bonds making a U shape.

Both food fat and body fat exists in cis configuration and most of the unsaturated fatty acids are cis in nature.

Because of its chemical structure, they are liquid at room temperature.

Naturally occuring unsaturated fatty acids belong to omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 series.

Omega-3 series or Linoleic acid

Omega-6 series or Linolenic acid and Arachidonic acid

Omega-9 series or Oleic acid

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): not made by the body and needed through the diet hence known as EFAs. Chemically they are PUFA ( that is linoleic acid and Linoleic acid).

Arachidonic acid becomes essential if its precursor linoleic acid is not provided in the diet in required amounts.

Linoleic and Linolenic acids are essential fatty acids as humans are devoid of the enzymes that can add double bonds after carbon 9 and 10.

Sources: vegetables, seeds, fish, and nuts.

MUFA (Monounsaturated Fatty Acids) or Oleic Acid: A good source of vegan healthy fats
Source: Canola oil, olive oil, peanut oils, avocado, nuts, coconut oil, mustard oil, and almond oil.

Health Benefits of MUFAs:

  1. Maintain HDL levels (good cholesterol)
  2. Lowers LDL levels (bad cholesterol)

PUFA (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids)- An essential fat for the human body and contain more than two carbon double bonds in its chemical structure.
Essential fats are fats to avail from food outside the human’s body because your body cannot make it on its own.

Example: Sesame, corn, flaxseed, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil.

Sesame oil contains 41% omega 6 F.A and has a  high smoke point. It is least prone to rancidity when kept in open or during cooking.

Recommended ratio for: SFA:MUFA:PUFA is 1:1:1

PUFA are of two types: 

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acid: known as alpha-linolenic acid (Example: EPA, DHA). Sources: Vegetable oil like groundnut oil, rice bran oil, 100-200g fish (2-3 times a week) and a combination of mustard oil and soybean oil. Good Sources of EPA (Ecosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) – Human milk (for infants), tuna, sardines, fish or cod liver oil, salmon, shellfish, anchory fish, herring, mullet fish, trout and blue fish.
  2. Omega-6 Fatty Acid: known as linoleic acid (Example: Arachidonic acid). Sources: Safflower oil, corn oil.

Both are beneficial for health but differs in distance of first carbon double bond to the first carbon atom. Recommended ratio of omega 6/omega 3 is 4:1.

Arachidonic Acid: It is a precursor of thromboxane (vasoconstrictor) and prostacyclin (vasodilators) that prevents accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessels. Thus, prevents thrombus formation.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

  1. Decreases LDL (bad cholesterol)
  2.  No effect on HDL (good cholesterol)
  3.  Decrease triglycerides (TG)
  4.  Lowers intake of corticosteroids medications in rheumatoid patients

Benefits of Omega-6 Fatty Acids:

  1. Decreases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels
  2. Its large quantity decreases HDL cholesterol levels
  3. Decreases thrombosis formation
  4. Less production of triglycerides (TGs) and LDL

Source: Canola oil, fatty fish like salmon and sardine, flaxseed, walnut and soyabean oil ( un-hydrogenated).

Flaxseeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) an omega-3 fatty acid (more than 50% in its oil).

Bottom line: A prudent diet (low in calorie, cholesterol, and SFAs) with high fiber and high in PUFA is a principle diet to maintain good nutrition for heart patients.

Eat healthy fats (Nuts) your way:

A study done at Harvard University suggested benefits of a handful of nuts for weight loss.

Switch to nuts from other snacks like processed foods, red meat, a bag of chips, french fries, dessert.

According to the American Heart Association study, a handful of nuts or one serving of nuts (28-30g) in daily diet maintains a healthy weight.

Bottom line: A one-ounce serving of nuts is about 160 Kcal. Replace your candy or bag of chips with a handful of healthy nuts.  Either add in your salad or baked foods or as roasted snacks.

Remember: Moderation is the key.

Preferred Oil for Cooking:

Note: PUFA is a long chain fatty acid and is liable to per-oxidation. The uncontrolled peroxidation of PUFA in the cell membrane leading to cell damage.

A balance of PUFA with MUFA maintains normal cell function.

The more is the polyunsaturated fat, the faster it will go rancid (rancidity is incomplete oxidation of fats and oils that arises in the presence of air, light, and heat).

You can notice rancidity in the oil when you use it. If there is stale taste, off-odor or strange color (darker than original) discard you cooking oil.

For Deep-Frying prefer: Safflower or Sunflower Oil (High smoking point)

Sauteing and Stir-frying: Canola Oil, Olive and Groundnut Oil

Sprinkle and Salad dressing: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Flaxseed Oil

The Takeaway:

The Three Reasons to Go Nuts over Nuts:

1. Nuts and Seeds are a Good Source of Fiber: A spike in blood sugar makes insulin store more fat in different organs of the body. But fiber blocks this pathway. Then you don’t need insulin.

A recommended amount of dietary fiber is 25-30g per day.

Dietary Fibers:

Fiber or roughage is a kind of carbohydrate that cannot be easily broken or digested by digestive enzymes in humans. It is a plant-derived food.

On the basis of its physical properties it is grouped into the following:

Soluble Fiber:

As the name suggests it gets dissolved in water. It forms a gel with water that slows digestion, expands and provide a bulk to the food in the gastrointestinal tract (GI).

Therefore, aids in weight loss and stabilizes blood sugar. It is also a natural scrub to clear off waste particles in GI tract.

Soluble fiber absorbs toxins in the blood and has no deleterious effect on the body.

In addition, alleviates the condition of diarrhea and constipation.

Good sources are: Oats, legumes, nuts, seeds, cereals, fruits and vegetables.

Insoluble Fiber:

It does not dissolve in water. So, it remains intact and passes through the digestive system along with waste particles and increases bulk.

Thereby, alleviates the condition of constipation as it increases intestinal peristaltic movement.

Sources: wheat bran, whole grains, avocado, psyllium husk.

FDA defines Dietary Fibers to have physiological effects that improve human health.

For instance, lower cholesterol, postprandial glucose levels, lower blood pressure, balance appetite, and satiety, decreases gut transit time.

FDA approved Fiber status in 2016:

Beta-glucan, psyllium husk, cellulose, pectin, locust bean gum, and guar gum.

2. Nuts are Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is the cause of many chronic diseases. Nuts helps to reduce plaque formation and decrease the risk factor for heart disease.

3. Calorie Dense but full of Macro-nutrients and Micro-nutrients: Such as carbohydrate, protein, fat, calcium, phytonutrients and minerals respectively.

A Quick Guide to Healthy Fats:

1. Almond- 3 ounce a day to lose weight and reduce waistline. One ounce (28g) or 23 whole kernels to prevent heart disease. A good source of vegan healthy fats.

Almonds, when consumed as snacks, keep off hunger pangs 
2. Walnut- One ounce or 28g a day (14 halves in no.) contains 47% of PUFA with alpha-linolenic acid.

It lowers levels of apolipoprotein-B a strong genetic risk factor for heart disease.

3. Brazil Nuts- A ounce (30g) or 6 kernels a day is a good source of healthy fat to cut back extra fat and maintain weight.

It contains 100% RDA of selenium that helps to metabolize thyroid hormone.

4. Pistachio Nuts- 6-10g a day lowers stress-induced blood pressure. Rich in vitamin K and good for bone health.

5. Olive oil (Extra Virgin)- Rich in anti-oxidants. Contain healthy fats for weight loss.

6. Avocados- contain potassium more than banana and good for heart health.

7. Macadamia Nuts- A ounce (10-12 kernels) a good source of MUFA that helps to lower cholesterol.
8. Cashews- One ounce (18g) or 18 kernels is a good source of zinc and magnesium that boosts memory.

9. Flaxseed- An anti-oxidant, rich in omega-3 fatty acid, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.

10. Chia seed– 60% linolenic acid, omega 3, polyphenols, anti-oxidant, high dietary fiber content (insoluble fiber). Good source of protein about (19-27g/100g). Low in calorie content.


Even if you go for foods with zero added trans fat in the packaged food. Always look if partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil or fats is mentioned.

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