Fats are compounds that are required by the body for a number of functions including maintaining cell membrane structure, nerve and brain health, vision, immune function and as a source of energy
Fatty acids are the unit of fats in the body. Fatty acids are joined together in sets of 3 to become triglycerides. These fatty acids (much like amino acids) are classified into essential and non-essential fatty acids.
There are 2 essential fatty acids: Omega 3 (ALA – Alpha Linolenic Acid) and Omega 6 (LA – Linoleic Acid).
These essential fatty acids are required by the body as we lack the enzymes to synthesise them. There are many other types of fatty acids – all of which are generally considered to be non-essential as they can be synthesised in the body.
Fatty Acids are categorised into Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated and Saturated Fatty Acids. The 2 essential fatty acids (ALA and LA) are both polyunsaturated fatty acids.
These 3 different categories of fats have different functions and effects in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats are considered to be the most beneficial to health. These can be used as fuel and also contribute to many essential functions in the body including regulating inflammation.
Monounsaturated fats are used primarily as a source of energy and do not seem to have any adverse effects.
Saturated fats have been a source of controversy for decades with some considering them as unhealthy, non-essential fats that contribute to diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Others view them as essential to health and not dangerous or disease causing. The medical consensus to date however is that saturated fat (taken in excess of 10% of total daily calories) contributes to the buildup of cholesterol in the blood leading to atherosclerosis (Cardiovascular (CVD) or Heart Disease).