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Good fats, bad fats: are you in the know?

# Micronutrients | 27. November 2015

Fatty acids are contained in triglycerides, for example fats and oils, which are taken daily with our meals. (Triglycerides are the main constituent of body fat in humans and animals, as well as vegetable fat). They are then, for example, converted into constituents of the cell walls, important proteins, sex hormones, endogenous corticosteroids, vitamin D or bile acids. There are many different types of triglyceride, with the main division being between saturated and unsaturated types. Fatty acids are not always the same fatty acids, they can be good for us but also an unnecessary burden! To get a better idea of them, here are a few details:

Saturated fatty acids: contain no double bonds in their chemical structure, we need them preferably for energy. Contained in animal foods, such as sausage, meat and butter. Taking too much of them, raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood which then also increases the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

Unsaturated fatty acids: have one double-bonded, or unsaturated carbon atom (single or multiple); also known as mono unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (abbreviated as  MUFAs and PUFAs), and also referred to as the “healthy fats”. The more double bonds they contain, the more they melt. Oils have more double bonds than fats or waxes. They are also called essential fatty acids because our body needs them but cannot produce them (eg. linoleic and linolenic acid). They must be present in our diet.

Trans-fatty acids: in these fatty acids, the double bond is located at a different position than normal. This occurs when fats are exposed to very high heating (eg. cooking oil) and as a byproduct in the manufacture of margarine. They are suspected of harming health. Incidentally food with trans-fatty acids must be labeled ‘vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated “

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids:  belong to the unsaturated fatty acids and should be taken in the ratio 5: 1 (omega-6 to omega-3 content). The name derives from the position of the first double bond, counting from the end. They have a favourable effect on atherosclerosis and your blood-lipid levels.

Linoleic acid (LA): Omega-6 fatty acid needs to be part of our daily diet. It is mainly found in animal fats, dairy products, red meat, as well as sunflower, soybean and corn oil. It protects the skin against light damage and other stimuli. The proportion in food should not be too high.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): Omega-3 fatty acid should also be part of our daily diet. Occurs mainly in canola, walnut, linseed or hemp oil.

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA): Omega-6 fatty acid can be produced by the body with the help of zinc, vitamin B 6, vitamin C and magnesium from the linoleic acid. It should also be ingested with your food food and is mainly found in borage and evening primrose oil. It is anti-inflammatory and helpful in atopic dry skin and eczema

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): both are omega-3 fatty acids which also should be part of our daily diet. They are found mainly in krill, fish and shellfish. They are building blocks for eicosanoids, (which are signal molecules that exert complex control over many bodily systems, mainly in inflammation or immunity) and are important for the cardiovascular system, vision and brain function.

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