Fats and oils are necessary in the diets but in moderation.
Posted on October 24th, 2014

Dr Hector Perera         London

While Fats and Oils are not a ‘food group,’ the Food Guide provides guidance on them because of their impact on health. The type and amount of fat in our diet is important to consider. While some fats are ‘essential’ to our diet, too much of any fat is not healthy.

Fat is naturally present in many foods. Typically, animal products are sources of mainly saturated fats, while plant foods and oils typically supply most of the unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) in our diet.

Diets that are high in saturated fat (mainly from animal products) and trans fats (mainly found in commercially prepared foods like baked goods and fried foods), have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. That’s why health professionals suggest we consume less of saturated fats and avoid trans fat.

A lot of the fat in our diet is not seen it’s already in the foods we have purchased. However, added fats like oils used in stir-fries, dressings on our salads and spreads on bread, can contribute even more fat to our diets. The Food Guide suggests limiting these types of visible fats and using mostly unsaturated varieties.

Types of fats

The fats are broadly divided into two sections called health fats and unhealthy fats. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are regarded as healthy fats for example:

Monounsaturated fats are found in canola, olive and peanut oils, avocados, olives and many nuts and seeds. That means in the carbon chain of the fat molecules there are C=C bonds then we call them unsaturated oils.  If was only one C=C bond in the chain then we call them monounsaturated oils. If there were more than one C=C bonds in the oil molecules then we call them polyunsaturated oils. That means Monounsaturated fats come from vegetables. They remain liquid at room temperature, but become less fluid when refrigerated.

A few polyunsaturated fats are found in safflower, sesame seeds, sunflower oils, soya bean oils, fish, mayonnaise and many nuts and seeds. Some non-hydrogenated margarines and some nuts and seeds also have more than one C=C bonds in the oil molecule then we call them polyunsaturated oils.

Fish oils are also healthy and they are also considered as healthy oils and supposed to contain Omega-6 and Omega 3 fats for example some fishes, omega-3 eggs, walnuts, pine nuts and pecans, canola and soya bean oils.

Hydrogenated margarine, lard [pig fat], butter, full fat dairy products are supposed to be unhealthy because the oil molecule has no C=C bonds then we call them saturated fats. Then there are Trans fats and they are as well supposed to be unhealthy. Some restaurants use lard to temper onions with before making fried rice and buriyani”. Would you consider it is healthy? 

Saturated Fats: In saturated fats, the carbon atoms contain all the hydrogen atoms they can hold, thus the term “saturated.” Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature.

Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products such as milk, butter, ice cream, cheese, lard and the fat found on meat. In plants, saturated fats are found in tropical oils such as coconut and palm. Saturated fats play the single greatest role in raising blood cholesterol and putting us at greater risk for heart disease but coconut oil is different.

Is bacon healthy to eat?

Bacon has a large amount of sodium, and the consumption of a large amount of sodium can put a person at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Bacon is considered by many doctors to be unhealthy if eaten in excess, yes please note the word in excess. 

One 20 gram (0.7 oz) rasher of cooked streaky bacon contains 5.4 grams (0.2 oz) of fat, and 4.4 grams (0.2 oz) of protein. Four pieces of bacon can also contain up to 800 mg of sodium, which is roughly equivalent to 1.92 grams of salt. The fat and protein content varies depending on the cut and cooking method. 68% of bacon’s calories come from fat, almost half of which are saturated fat. Each ounce of bacon contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol. Now what would you say?

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich found a connection between eating processed meat and the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. Processed meats contain preservatives known as nitrates that, when absorbed by the human body, convert into nitrosamine, a chemical compound that could cause cancer. A second study by researchers at Columbia University found that the consumption of cured meats increase a person’s chances of developing chronic pulmonary disease.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found in 2010 that eating processed meats (such as bacon) that are preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives, was associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and diabetes. The same association was not found for unprocessed meat.


Traditionally, sausage casings were made of the cleaned intestines, or stomachs in the case of haggis and other traditional puddings. Today, however, natural casings are often replaced by collagen, cellulose, or even plastic casings, especially in the case of industrially manufactured sausages. That means you eat plastic, is that really healthy? Some forms of sausage, such as sliced sausage, are prepared without a casing. Additionally, luncheon meat and sausage meat are now available without casings in tin cans and jars. Susantha Wijesinghe from USA mentioned that if plastic ladles are used in frying, it can dissolve and absorbed into food, eventually it can cause some cancer. Why not use a traditional Polkatuhanda”.

What about hot dogs?

They are supposed to contain the following list of chemicals such as E250 — Sodium nitrite. The problem is processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer and sodium nitrite is thought to be largely to blame. It is added to hot dogs to stop them going grey, and keep microbes at bay.

Studies on animals have linked sodium nitrites to an increased risk of cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund carried out a global study on the dangers of processed meats and found that people who regularly consume 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to one-and-a-half hot dogs increase their chances of getting bowel cancer by 20 per cent. The charity believes nitrites are largely to blame.

In the body, nitrites can react with protein-rich foods such as meat to produce N-nitroso compounds, or NOCs. Some types of NOCs damage the DNA in our cells and cause cancer. In 2006, scientists analysed more than 60 studies and found that nitrites are also linked to higher risks of stomach cancer.

Flavours By law, hot dog packets don’t have to say what flavourings are used in them. Many use artificial smoke flavouring, herbs, spices, celery and garlic powder.  

A few brands use the chemical monosodium glutamate MSG, or E621 – to enhance the flavour. MSG gives food a ‘meaty’ feel and is used in soups, sauces and, infamously, Chinese takeaways, now even found in Asian food stores. Very likely some restaurants add MSG to their food to taste better.

MSG has been accused of causing allergies, headaches and dehydration. However, despite the health scares, there is no hard evidence that MSG is bad for you, and it is found naturally in broccoli, mushrooms and tomatoes. They also may include E451 — Potassium and sodium triphosphates, E452 — Polyphosphates, in the human body, E452 breaks down into phosphate and there is no evidence of a health risk.

E301 — Sodium ascorbate but not found to cause any problems, E120 — Carmine but it is added to hot dogs. Carmine is another word for the red food dye cochineal, which has no health effects, as long as you are not allergic to insects. Cochineal is made by crushing up the shells of small beetles. The shells are boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate and the colour filtered off. The colour, found in supermarket curries, yoghurts, lipstick and pink icing, can trigger allergic reactions and even anaphylactic shock in some people.

Chicken and Poultry

Chicken is very different. Chicken meat contains much less fat, especially if the birds are young. The white meat is particularly lean, but even the dark meat is not very fatty. Moreover, chicken fat is much less fully saturated than the fat of the more common meat mammals. It can be eaten in reasonably generous amounts without unduly raising the blood cholesterol.
Liver is the most popular of the variety meats and is a rich source of vitamins and of high-quality protein. Moreover, liver is usually not very fat – less fat than an ordinary joint cut from the same animal and the fat it contains is less highly saturated.
New evidences 

Saturated fat has become public enemy number one for heart health, the one food type guaranteed to clog arteries and raise the risk of a heart attack. But emerging evidence suggests not all saturated fat should be tarred with the same brush one type of saturated fat, known as stearic acid, may actually protect the heart against disease. Stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid with an 18-carbon chain and has the IUPAC name octadecanoic acid. It is a waxy solid, and its chemical formula is CH₃(CH₂)₁₆CO₂H.

Stearic acid, which is found in beef and pork, skinless chicken, olive oil, cheese, chocolate and milk, is one of many saturated fatty acids found in food. Others include lauric, myristic and palmitic acids. Palmitic acid is a saturated fatty acid commonly found in both animals and plants. It is a major component in the oils from palm trees, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. I am sure you all know, the kernel of young coconuts or Kurumba” and king coconuts taste so delicious.

Many medical authorities, such as the World Health Organization, say dietary intake of saturated fats such as palmitic acid increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, in moderation, palmitic acid might not be entirely bad for you, as it does display mild antioxidant and anti-atherosclerotic properties. According to a Korean study published in a 2010 edition of the “Journal of Medicinal Food,” palmitic acid does display antioxidant properties and can help prevent atherosclerosis in rats, but it is not as effective as oleic acid. One of the chief sources of this acid in foods is also found in olive oil. 

However, unlike other saturated fatty acids, repeated studies have shown stearic acid has no adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Indeed, it appears to be beneficial suggesting that red meat and chocolate are not the heart-healthy disaster zones we assume they are.

When one study published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that eating lean beef on a daily basis improved cholesterol levels, it was the stearic acid in the meat that was said to be responsible for the positive change.

More benefits of coconut oil

However, new data is showing that saturated fats are harmless. Many massive studies that include hundreds of thousands of people prove that the whole artery-clogging” idea was a myth.  Additionally, coconut oil doesn’t contain your average run-of-the-mill saturated fats like you would find in cheese or steak. They contain so-called medium chain triglycerides   (MCTs) – which are fatty acids of a medium length. Most of the fatty acids in the diet are long-chain fatty acids, but the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are metabolized differently.

They go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source energy or turned into so-called ketone bodies, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Coconut oil contains a lot of medium chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently and can have therapeutic effects on several brain disorders.


There is a misconception spread among many people that coconut oil is not good for heart health. This is because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. In reality, coconut oil is beneficial for the heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in actively preventing various heart problems like high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as you commonly find in vegetable oils. Coconut oil does not lead to increase in LDL levels, and it reduces the incidence of injury and damage to arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis. One might ask what atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis (or arteriosclerotic vascular disease) is a condition where the arteries become narrowed and hardened due to an excessive build-up of plaque around the artery wall. The disease disrupts the flow of blood around the body, posing serious cardiovascular complications. Arteries contain what is called an endothelium, a thin layer of cells that keeps the artery smooth and allows blood to flow easily. Atherosclerosis starts when the endothelium becomes damaged, allowing LDL cholesterol to accumulate in the artery wall. What is LDL, it is called low density lipoprotein it is one of the five major groups of lipoproteins, which, in order of molecular size, largest to smallest, are chylomicrons, very low-density lipoprotein, intermediate-density lipoprotein, LDL, and high-density lipoprotein.

The body sends macrophage white blood cells to clean up the cholesterol, but sometimes the cells get stuck there at the affected site. Over time this results in plaque being built up, consisting of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and macrophage white blood cells. The plaque clogs up the artery, disrupting the flow of blood around the body. This potentially causes blood clots that can result in life-threatening conditions such as heart attackstroke and other cardiovascular diseases. 

The cholesterol can be lowered by a medicine called Statin.

 Statins are the name given to a group of cholesterol lowering medicines, which are available on prescription or in low doses over the counter at pharmacies in the UK. Statin therapy is recommended for adults at high risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke or peripheral artery disease) and also those who already have a history of cardiovascular disease. I think this discussion want be complete without mentioning about Statin and how does it work. Statins work by reducing the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. They do this by blocking the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver cells; this forces the cells to get their supply of cholesterol from the blood, thereby lowering the blood cholesterol level.

Virgin coconut oil

For at least 50 years researchers have recognized that the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in virgin coconut oil were digested differently than other fats. This difference has had important implications for the treatment of many digestive and metabolic health conditions, as MCFAs have been routinely used in hospital and baby formulas. The digestive health advantages of MCFAs over long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) are due to the differences in the way our bodies metabolize these fats. Because the MCFA molecules are smaller, they require less energy and fewer enzymes to break them down for digestion. They are digested and absorbed quickly and with minimal effort. MCFAs are broken down almost immediately by enzymes in the saliva and gastric juices so that pancreatic fat-digesting enzymes are not essential, meaning there is less strain on the pancreas and digestive system. This has important implications for patients who suffer from digestive and metabolic problems.

People who suffer from mal-absorption problems and have difficulty digesting or absorbing fats and fat soluble vitamins benefit greatly from MCFAs. These fatty acids can also be important for people suffering from diabetes, obesity, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic insufficiency, and some forms of cancer.

You mean Asian breakfast are healthy than Western one?

I mentioned that most Asian style breakfast do not contain too much or any animal fat and salt whereas Western style breakfast such as bacon, sausages, baked beans are not quite healthy but an occasional treat in moderation does no harm. Eating some Seeni sambol”, sardines and fried sprats are acceptable but in moderation. The problem is some people show no limit or exceed the limits quite often. Any comments are welcomed perera6@hotmail.co.uk

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