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Fats: Which are healthy, which are unhealthy?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 355 views

Along with carbohydrates and protein, fats are among the main nutrients in human nutrition. They take on important tasks in the body: fats are important suppliers of energy and help with the absorption of certain vitamins. But fat is not just fat. Read here how fats differ and how many grams per day are healthy.

what is fat

Fat is always associated with obesity and therefore often has a bad reputation. It has many important tasks in the body: fat is an important energy carrier and store. While carbohydrates and protein contain only four kilocalories (kcal) per gram, fat accounts for nine kilocalories. This shows that you only need a small amount of fat to provide the body with sufficient energy.

In summary, fat has the following functions in the body. It…

  • …supplies the body with essential fatty acids.
  • …transports the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K.
  • …transports aromas and flavors.
  • …supplies the body with energy.
  • …stores energy.
  • …is a building block of cells and nerve tissue.
  • …serves as heat protection.
  • …is a protective cushion for internal organs such as the kidneys and brain .

Healthy and Unhealthy Fats: That’s the Difference!

From a chemical point of view, fats are made up of fatty acids, among other things. These consist of chains of up to 26 carbon atoms linked by single or double bonds and are therefore structured differently. If there are one or more double bonds, the fatty acids are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, otherwise they are unsaturated.

Whether a fat is healthy or unhealthy depends on various criteria. For example, the degree of saturation, the point at which the fatty acid is unsaturated (omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids ) and whether the fat is essential (essential) are relevant.

Saturated Fatty Acids

Excessive amounts of saturated fatty acids are bad for your health and, for example, increase cholesterol levels and thus the risk of cardiovascular disease. They are mainly a component of animal foods and are found, for example, in butter or lard.

Unsaturated fatty acids

Unsaturated fatty acids are primarily found in plant foods such as nuts and vegetable oils. They protect the heart and blood vessels . These include, for example, the well-known omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are essential. This means that the body does not produce them itself, but always obtains them from food.


Trans fats or trans fatty acids belong to the group of unsaturated fatty acids, but their composition is similar to saturated fatty acids. They are formed primarily during the fat hardening of vegetable oils, which is often the case in industrial food processing. But also by strong heating

Fat hardening gives edible fats the desired stability. Trans fats are found in margarines and frying fats. However, they are also naturally present in milk and butter in small amounts and with different properties. They have a proven negative effect on health and should therefore be consumed sparingly.

Animal and vegetable fats: these types exist!

Fats are either of animal or vegetable origin. Animal fat, like that found in butter or lard, mostly consists of saturated fatty acids. Oily sea fish such as salmon and mackerel are an exception. They even contain plenty of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegetable fats, on the other hand, consist largely of unsaturated fatty acids. Linseed oil and rapeseed oil, for example, contain plenty of omega-3 . There is also fat in fruit: the avocado, for example, is a good natural source.

How much fat a day is healthy?

Because fat is a flavor carrier, the food usually tastes more intense and aromatic than the low-fat version. That’s why we like to grab fat. However, that is not always a good thing. Nevertheless, fats are important for the human body. But how much fat does the body need?

The recommendation of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE) provides orientation: About 30 percent of your daily energy requirement is best covered by fats. For example, if your daily energy requirement is 1,800 calories, you are consuming 540 calories from fat. That’s about 60 milliliters or six tablespoons of olive oil .

Basically, reach for unsaturated fatty acids as often as possible. These “good” fats include fish oil and vegetable oils from rapeseed, olives, flaxseed or algae. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids or oleic acid, the most important representative of the unsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduce inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

When it comes to your diet, make sure that many processed products contain hidden, mostly unhealthy trans fats that have a negative impact on your health. These include, for example, chips, French fries or ready meals.

Consequences of a high-fat diet

Eating too much fat on a regular basis has negative consequences. On the one hand, the body stores the fat in the stores under the skin – overweight and obesity arise.

The body also looks for other storage locations, such as the abdominal cavity, liver, pancreas, heart and skeletal muscles, to store the fat. There, however, it sometimes has serious effects: chronic inflammations, which later lead to arteriosclerosis, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases are possible.

Consequences of a low-fat diet

Conversely, anyone who thinks that as little fat as possible is the right way to fitness and health is wrong. In particular, the lack of essential fatty acids has dire consequences. This includes:

  • reduced ability to learn
  • hair loss
  • growth retardation
  • infertility
  • decreased eyesight
  • weak immune system
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • poor wound healing
  • neurological disorders

If you eat far too little fat or no fat at all, for example as part of a diet or fasting period, the depot fat will be used up first. The absorption of fat-soluble vitamins then suffers and, in extreme cases, a vitamin deficiency occurs . Perhaps you are also getting colder because the insulating layer is missing.

Fats as part of a balanced diet

Choose fats consciously and pay attention to a balanced composition of animal and vegetable fats as well as an adequate supply of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Rely on high-quality, cold-pressed vegetable oils. Sprinkle seeds and nuts over your food regularly and only eat cheese, meat and sausage in moderation. Those who opt for a low-fat diet also prefer cooking methods such as boiling, steaming or grilling to frying.

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