Where are the Healthy Fats Hiding in Your Food?

Keep your PUFA-MUFA close and omegas closer!

Ishita Lote

Fats—they’ve been shamed and blamed for the longest time. Wanted to fit into those skinny jeans? Give up oil and ghee, they said! Fell in love with an LBD available in a size smaller? Off you go, butter and cheese! Want to eat healthy food? Forget french fries and Mayonnaise! From fitting into clothes, weight loss, heart health or other lifestyle diseases, fats are the first food group to be targeted.

While your sacrifices may have given you the temporary joy of shedding a pound or two, it did nothing more. On the contrary, your skin felt dry, hormones went for a toss and energy levels dropped. And it didn’t happen because you gave up chips or fries! It happened because you also dismissed ghee, dairy, nuts and fish—aka the healthy fats. “Along with being concentrated sources of energy, healthy fats promote cell growth and help in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins,” says Niyati Likhite, dietician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.

Madhuri Ruia, nutrition specialist and author of Who Stole My Calories, clears the air and shares that omega fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are healthy fats and present in nuts such as almonds, walnuts and seeds such as flaxseeds among a host of other things. They are rich in antioxidants and boost your immunity. Moreover, they bring down the inflammation in the body, increase the good cholesterol and help in controlling blood sugar levels.


Let’s clear the jargon and do some fat-checking. There are good fats and bad fats.  


Unsaturated fats or essential fatty acids

(healthy fats from nuts and oils)


Saturated fats

(or sat fats from ghee and butter)

Hydrogenated fats

(Dalda, margarine—liquid oils made creamy by a process of hydrogenation, converting healthy unsaturated fats into unhealthy variants of sat fats)

Trans fats

(produced by repeatedly heating oils/fats—lead to heart disease and cancers)

Unsaturated fats: The healthy fats


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Rich sources: Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Flaxseed oil, Fatty Fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna) Fish oil supplements and Chia seeds.

These fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and are obtained from food sources, explains Dr Chandrashekhar Kulkarni, Consultant (Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgery) at Global Hospital Mumbai. A report shared by Harvard School of Public Health suggests that along with being an integral part of cell membranes, these fatty acids are essential for hormone production and important body processes such as blood clotting, contracting and relaxing of blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce risk of diabetes, heart diseases and arthritis. “Omega-3 fatty acids are very beneficial for pregnant and lactating women and children up to the age of 5, as they promote brain development,” adds Dr Kulkarni.


Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)

Rich sources: Groundnut oil, Mustard oil, Canola oil, Safflower oil, Almonds, Cashewnuts, Groundnuts,  Pistachios, Olives, Olive oil and Avocados

These fatty acids are the real heroes who protect your heart and fight all the harmful free radicals attacking your cells. While all fats and oils contain MUFA, the ratio of MUFA-PUFA differs.


Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs or Omega 6)

Rich Sources: Sesame oil, Soybean oil, Sunflower Oil, Corn oil, Grape seed oil, Hemp seeds , corn oil,  Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cereals, eggs, meat, poultry, Brazil nuts.

Both mono and polyunsaturated fats help in lowering bad cholesterol, so these are the good fats. For best results, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 must be 6:1,” suggests Dr  Kulkarni. Which means that for every six teaspoons of sunflower oil you use, you must use one teaspoon of flaxseed oil for a good balance. That leaves us with hydrogenated fats such as Vanaspati, and sat fats such as ghee.Though sat fats such as dairy fat and ghee have received the rap, recent research has highlighted that ghee contains conjugated linoleic acid and short chain fatty acids, which promote weight loss.

Therefore, it must be consumed more as compared to other sources of saturated and trans fats.


Saturated Fats: Where to stop?

Fatty acids that do not contain any double bands in their structures are called saturated fatty acids. They solidify at room temperature. "The AHA recommends limiting saturated fats to 5-6% of our total fat intake. This is because its excessive consumption may lead to blockages in the arteries and when coupled with sedentary lifestyle may increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke"says Ruia. Which means if you are consuming a 2000 kcal diet, not more than 13 grams (1-2 teaspoons) of fat can come from saturated sources.

According to the dietary guidelines given by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad: Men with a sedentary work condition must consume 2320 kcal per day while women should consume 1900 kcal. The recommended fat intake should be 25g and 20g per day respectively, which comes up to 4-5 teaspoons per day.  

“Animal products such as red meat, pork, egg yolk, cream, ghee and ice creams are the richest sources of saturated fats,” points out Likhite. Of these, coconut oil, dairy fats, and chicken are considered as the better alternatives. This is because according to a 2019 report shared by Time magazine, dairy fat is not linked to heart disease or diabetes, and ghee is a fine option, if you wish to increase the fat content in your diet.

“Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil and unrefined organic ghee are healthy sources of saturated fat. If one restricts refined sugar and refined carbs and exercises regularly, he/she can consume 1-2 tsp of coconut oil or ghee every day to start with,” adds Ruia.

Bad Fats: The Real Culprits

The next time your doctor or nutritionist tells you to restrict puffs, pastries and fast foods such as fries and burgers, you better take them seriously! This is because these foods are prepared with hydrogenated fat and may also have trans fats.

Margarine and Vanaspati ghee are the best examples of trans-fats and most popularly used in street foods and bakery products. Reusing oil for deep frying more than once, heating oils to their smoke points or using oil after it has reached the flash point stage are all ways that you can end up making trans fats in your own kitchen!

“Trans fats can shoot up your bad cholesterol (LDL) while bringing down the good cholesterol (HDL). Due to this, the risk of developing heart diseases, stroke and diabetes also go up. The oil used to fry samosas and vada pav on the street is likely to have trans fats. Also avoid junk food like pizza, French fries and cookies,” suggests Likhite.

Low Fat Alternatives: Are they any good?

Dr Kulkarni disapproves of low-fat products as they may contain high amounts of carbohydrate and sugar which may ultimately get converted to fat in the body. For example, low fat yogurt may be a bad option due to high sugar content but that may not be the case for low fat milk.

According to a report published by Harvard School of Public Health, chugging down skimmed milk, toned milk or low fat milk can help you keep your sat fat intake under control, especially for people with cardiovascular conditions. 

Kitchen Hack: An easy way to make your milk low fat at home is to skim it three times after boiling out. This way, most of the fat gets separated from the milk.

Picture: Shutterstock


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