Israeli vegetable salad with extra olive oil, image: Osnat Rom
What are the different types of fat and how do they affect blood cholesterol levels?
In general, the fat in food is made up of fatty acids which are "chains" of carbon atoms. There are many different types of fats, each affects our body differently. Fats are essential for the functioning of the body: for absorbing vitamins, for building cell membranes, producing hormones, storing energy and more.
But not all fats affect the body in the same way: while some fats are just as important for healthy function and health as carbohydrates and proteins, some fats should be removed from our diet or reduced as much as possible.
Products with higher levels of saturated fatty acids are usually solids at room temperature: butter, margarine, coconut oil and palm oil (used to make bakery goods and candy) as well as cocoa butter (used to make chocolate). It is recommended to avoid consuming these fats and the foods containing them as they increase the "bad" blood cholesterol level (LDL).
As fats become richer in unsaturated fatty acids, they become more liquid at room temperature: they are in oils such as soybean, olive, canola, corn, sunflower, and in seeds and nuts, almonds, sesame and flax oils. Mayonnaise and tahini are also unsaturated fats. Fish, particularly fatty fish (sardines, trout, salmon, herring, mackerel and mullet) also contain omega-3 fatty acids which belong to the unsaturated fatty acid group.
Consuming these fats is preferable for the following reasons:
- They contain essential fatty acids of various kinds (omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9), which the body cannot produce on its own and must absorb from food.
- They can help reduce blood cholesterol levels in a healthy, balanced diet.
- Foods such as avocados, nuts, almonds and tahini contain other nutrients in addition to fats, such as vitamins, minerals and proteins.
There are two types of trans fats: the kind that is naturally found in fats of animal origin (butter, beef, fat etc.) and the kind produced from unsaturated vegetable oils that have undergone chemical hardening (hydrogenation) to meet needs in the food industry. The use of hardened fat helps to extend the shelf life and improve the taste and texture of the foods that contain it. This fat is used around the world mainly for the production of margarines, bakery goods such as crackers, cakes and cookies, candy, snacks and other foods containing “hardened vegetable fat” as well as for frying fast foods.
It is recommended to reduce consumption of such fats and foods that contain them as much as possible, since they cause an increase in the "bad" blood cholesterol level (LDL) and a decrease in the "good" blood cholesterol level (HDL). Multiple studies have found that reducing saturated fat and trans fat may prevent many cases of cardiovascular disease.
In recent years, the food industry has been working to reduce the use of trans fat in food production. For example, in some margarines most of the trans fats have been replaced by saturated fat. However, saturated fat consumption should be reduced, too. In addition, many countries – including Israel – require food manufacturers to specify the levels of trans fatty acids on the product's packaging, so that consumers can make an informed choice.
Important: As part of EfshariBari’s National Program's activities and since February 2014, food manufacturers are required to indicate the trans-fat level of the product on the food packaging in the nutritional values table.
Which fats are preferable?
- According to the new government dietary guidelines and the nutritional rainbow, it is recommended to integrate olive oil, avocado, tahini, nuts and/or almonds in the daily menu.
- It is recommended to label oils with similar contents to those of olive oil, tahini and nuts with the green symbol. They can be used for seasoning, cooking and baking. When using cooking oil, it is preferable to use a teaspoon or tablespoon and not pour the oil directly from the bottle.
- Dairy and meat – it is preferable to eat dairy products with the green label and raw chicken without the skin. Eggs should be consumed in moderation (it is important to remember eggs are also in cakes, pies, patties etc.).
- Pay attention to the symbols on the front of the package and prefer raw foods with the green symbol - for healthy, enjoyable home cooking.