The Science of BBQ - Fatty Acids
People tend to have a general negative reaction when discussing fat. However, fat isn’t as negative as you would think. There were campaigns and fad diets saying that all fats were bad for you. Others promoted high carbohydrate consumption, things like rice, bread, and pasta. The thing is, the fats that were being cut out, while containing some of the negative attributes, also contained the positive attributes of fatty acids as well. While the carbohydrates being promoted were generally simple carbs that do provide energy, however, lacked in vitamins, fiber and minerals. Let’s digest some facts about fats and discuss those fatty acids in this Science of Barbecue article.
Fat, all fats, are broken down into fatty acids when they are digested in one way or another, whether that is in our stomachs or making cheese. There are a number of fatty acids that have different uses to the body when fat is consumed and broken down. They not only provide flavor to foods but nutrition for our bodies. Some of these fatty acids are more healthful than others and it is recommended that you consume both saturated and unsaturated fats in moderation to maintain peak health.
Fatty acids are an integral part of the fat-soluble components of both animals and plants. They are made of a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms and topped with a carboxyl group. They are acidic because the hydrogen atom provides a single ion. Fatty acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and used by the body as energy when glucose is unavailable.
Types of Fatty Acids
There are different kinds of fatty acids that come from many of the different foods that we eat.
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
These fats are liquid at room temperature and turn solid when they are cold. They are found in fish, avocados, olive oil, peanut oils and Japanese Wagyu Beef. These fatty acids are known to lower cholesterol and triglycerides - the fat in your bloodstream. Monounsaturated fatty acids contribute vitamin E and help with the maintenance and development of cells within a body. These and polyunsaturated fatty acids should be consumed over foods containing saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Similar to Monounsaturated fatty acids, Polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature. This type of fatty acid contains omega-3 and omega-6 fats that the human body cannot produce on its own and also have important compounds including essential fatty acids for healthy skin and cells, brain, nerve function and muscle strength. Polyunsaturated fatty acids can help with lowering cholesterol while reducing risks of stroke and heart disease. It is common knowledge that salmon and anchovies harbour this essential nutrient; however, you can also find polyunsaturated fats in sunflower oil, walnuts, flax seeds and sesame seeds.
Omega-3 is a fatty acid is necessary for life but the body cannot produce it alone. It needs to be consumed and absorbed. Omega-3s are essential to the membranes in the cell. Omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks for hormones crucial to clotting, movement of arteries and help to ease inflammation. You can find Omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon and anchovies, flax and chia seeds, soy beans, spinach, and even brussels sprouts.
Omega-6 fatty acids and vital for the body because our we cannot make it on our own. We don’t need as much Omega-6 as we do Omega-3, however, Omega-6 is great at helping the body with growth and repair. You can fi Omega-6 fatty acids in soybeans, corn, sunflower oil, most nuts and seeds, as well as meat and dairy. Both Omega fatty acids are important to cell membrane production, integral to visual acuity, neurodevelopment and physical growth during gestation.
Saturated Fatty Acids
These fats tend to be stable and are solid at room temperature. They are most commonly found in animal-based foods like meat and dairy as well as coconut and palm oil. Consider this kind of fat the stick-to-your-ribs kind of fat. Saturated fatty acids also store and provide more energy than just carbohydrates or protein would, however, eating foods high in saturated fat is not sustainable for healthy living. Where do you find the most saturated fats in the diet? Pizza, cheese, butter and dairy based desserts, cookies, bacon, sausages, hamburgers, and most fast foods.
Cholesterol is needed by the body to build healthy cells, however, too much, like many things, will cause a buildup in the bloodstream and can create blockages and lead to heart disease.
Trans Fats - aka Trans-Unsaturated Fatty Acids
These fats occur in dairy and meats naturally and can be beneficial to normal bodily function when consumed in moderation. However, trans fats are more commonly manufactured, these are known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated and are not great for the health. These manufactured fats are chemically changed to remain solid at room temperature. They can be found in heavily processed foods like desserts that are commercially baked, things that are battered and deep fried, and even in margarine and shortening.
It is up to you to consider the whole picture when thinking about a healthy diet. While there are many benefits to the different styles of eating, like being omnivorous vs. veganism, the fact that there are saturated fatty acids in animal products should not turn you off completely from eating meat. These foods can also contain high levels of healthy fatty acids too. Foods like wagyu and chicken can be just as nutritious as nuts, seeds, and avocados when consumed with mindfulness. Let us give fats a new reputation. Fat and by extension fatty acids are an important energy source for the body. When the right amounts of fats are consumed in conjunction with a healthy and well-balanced diet, they provide more satisfying meals and loads of flavor.
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