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The F Word

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Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Photo: American Heart Association


Dietary fats, also known as fatty acids, have been getting a lot of bad press and this needs to stop.

While fats’ contribution to a spectrum of health risks have been widely discussed, it is time to clear the air and start a discourse on some of its positive qualities.

Or better yet, learn to distinguish the bad from the good, so that an informed decision can be made in the future. Remember, you hold your own key to lifelong wellness.

Do we really need fats in our diet?

According to the United States National Library of Medicine, not all fats are alike. Mainly, its purpose is to fuel our bodies up with energy so we can perform daily activities to the fullest of our abilities.

Some vitamins like A, D, E and K are also fat-soluble. This means they require the presence of fats to break them down before they can be absorbed into our bodies. Without said vitamins, we may not be able to get that Kim Kardashian-esque hair and skin most dream of.

On top of that, humans need fats for insulation purposes which help our bodies regulate its own temperature.

Our bodies are also incapable of producing or working without essential fatty acids, which humans need for cognitive development, inflammation control, and blood clotting exercise.

So the answer is yes, we do need fats. But what kind?

‘Good fats’ vs ‘bad fats’

The ‘good fats’ are basically unsaturated fats. They are mostly naturally-derived and help lower the cholesterol levels in blood. If taken in lieu of ‘bad fats’ continuously, you will steadily reduce various health risks.

1) Monounsaturated fats

What is it: Naturally-derived fats with only one double bond in their molecular structure. Researches show they do not appear to promote the formation of atherosclerosis, a waxy plaque that can build up in arteries.

How to spot: Found in olive oil, sesame oil, canola oil, certain nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, avocados and seeds such as sesame and pumpkin.

How much do we need: It should be one of the biggest contributors to the total calorie intake.

2) Polyunsaturated fats

What is it: Similar to monounsaturated fats but the number of spaces around each molecule differs. The best kind of polyunsaturated fats is Omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for the health of your heart.

How to spot: Found in sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, catfish and mackerel.

How much do we need: Two servings of fatty fish each week, according to the American Heart Association.

Why ‘bad fats’ are truly evil

As opposed to the above, ‘bad fats’ are not at all essential for human bodies. In other words, we will live fine without them. They can be consumed but even the littlest intake must be monitored, as they may significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. You may want to steer clear of:

Fast foods, like fried chicken contain trans fat – labelled by doctors worldwide as the worst kind of fat that is associated with fatal heart attacks. Photo: Reuters

1) Saturated fats

What is it: Simply fat molecules. A majority of saturated fats are naturally derived from animal and its byproducts.

How to spot: Found in meat, meat products, poultry, dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil and processed foods.

How much do we need: Less than 10 per cent of our calorie intake. Anything beyond that may send our blood cholesterol levels through the roof.

2) Trans fat

What is it: Labelled by doctors worldwide as the worst kind of fat. It is synthetically made through an industrial process of adding hydrogen to vegetable oil.

How to spot: Typically found in foods with longer shelf life. Baked goods, snacks, fried food, fast food, frozen food and margarine.

How much do we need: Zero. Zilch. In fact, Harvard School of Public Health estimates that trans fat intake is associated with 50,000 fatal heart attacks each year.

How this affects present-day Cambodians

According to the US-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol are one of the highest concerns among Cambodians.

This is backed by data from World Health Organisation which showed that there is a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases over the period of 12 years.

In 2012, there were at least 15,000 pre-mature deaths that occurred due to said disease.

Fortunately, this can be avoided with the right diet plans and a few lifestyle tweaks. The next time you think of going for a quick run to that corner stall for deep-fried bananas or pork skewers, think again. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

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