Understanding Fats & Oils
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Although fats and oils are usually portrayed negatively, your body needs fats and oils to function properly.

Oils and fats that can be found in food from plants and animals are known as dietary fat, and they provide you with essential fatty acids which your body cannot produce. Fats are one of the three macronutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates that provide energy for your body. They can also help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K, and give your food a nicer taste and flavour.

At room temperature, fats may be present in either liquid or solid form. Fats which are liquid at room temperature are referred to as oils. Fats which are solid at room temperature are referred to as fats.

Getting to know the different types of fats

Your body need various types of fats. Knowing the different types of fats or fatty acids can make a huge difference in your overall health and weight management. There are two main types of fats that make up the fat in food: unsaturated and saturated fat.

  1. Unsaturated fats
    Unsaturated fats are mostly found in plant-based foods such as vegetable oil, nuts, seeds and some marine fishes. There are two types of unsaturated fats:
    • Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs)
      This is a type of fat found in a variety of foods and oils. Monounsaturated fats are mainly found in palm oil, olive oil, canola oil, cashew nuts, and peanuts.
    • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs)
      This is a type of fat found mostly in plant-based foods and oils such as soya bean oil, corn oil, sunflower seed oil, and deep sea fishes.
  2. Saturated fats
    Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources such as meats, milk, dairy products, ghee and lard. Some plant-based foods also contain saturated fat such as santan (coconut milk) and coconut oil.

Other types of fats

  1. Trans Fatty Acids (TFAs)
    Most Trans fats are produced during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats (MUFAs and PUFAs). Research shows that Trans fat such as hydrogenated margarines and shortening can increase unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol thus increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  2. Cholesterol
    Your body manufactures some cholesterol and also absorbs some dietary cholesterol that is found in your food from animal sources such as meat and eggs. Excessive cholesterol in your diet can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol level, risk of heart disease and stroke. Most animal foods that contain saturated fat also contain cholesterol.

When fats become unhealthy

Fats (regardless of the types of fat) become unhealthy when consumed in excess. This is because fats are high in calories (double the energy from same amount of carbohydrate or protein) and consuming foods that are high in fats increases your risk of being overweight or obese. Saturated fat alone, especially from animal source, tends to raise total blood cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Cutting down on fats

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines recommends that you keep to the recommended daily intake of fat. Your total fat intake should not be more than 20–30% (or 44-67 grams*) of your calorie intake per day. This could amount to around 5 tablespoons of oil.

*based on average recommended 2,000 kcal per day.

Tips to consume fats healthily

Since your body needs a variety of different kinds of fats, they must be consumed wisely. When cooking:

  • Use a blend of cooking oils; for example blend 1 cup of palm oil with 1 cup of other PUFA oils such as corn oil.
  • Do not use cooking oils when they have changed colour as harmful compounds may be formed.
  • Limit deep frying, shallow frying and batter frying when cooking.
  • Trim the fat and remove skin from meats or poultry before cooking.
  • Overweight or obese adults may opt to use low fat or skimmed dairy products.

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