Nutrient - Natural Fats & Oils
Fats and oils are known as ‘lipids’. Lipids can be saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. Saturated lipids are solid at room temperature and are called fats – butter is an example. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated lipids are liquid at room temperature and are called oils. Olive oil, for example, is a monounsaturate and sunflower oil is a polyunsaturate. All lipids are essential for optimum health, as they perform many important roles in the body - even saturates.
There are two important families of polyunsaturate fatty acids (PUFAs) called Omega 3 and Omega 6. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an Omega 3 essential fatty acid (EFA). Linoleic acid (LA) is an Omega 6 EFA. Essential fatty acids cannot be made in the body so must be present in food. ALA breaks down in the body to form DHA and EPA fatty acids. LA breaks down to form GLA fatty acid. Fatty acids form part of the walls of every cell in the body. They also make hormone-like substances, which are important for many body processes, including making energy, supporting the body with its role in inflammation, and maintaining a healthy heart, blood vessels and immune system.
Monounsaturates, such as Oleic acid, belong to the Omega 9 family. Other monounsaturates, such as Palmitoleic acid, belong to the Omega 7 family.
Polyunsaturates and monounsaturates are not suitable for cooking, as heat destroys their delicate chemical structure, turning them into harmful ‘trans’ fats. They must always be stored away from light and air to avoid going rancid. Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen to oils in order to make them solid at room temperature, like a saturate. Hydrogenated fats are harmful for the body and should be avoided where possible.
Saturates, such as Coconut oil, are ideal for cooking, as mild heat does not destroy their chemical structure. However, like PUFAs, saturates must also be kept away from light and air to avoid rancidity.