Fat for dummies – 4 key things you need to know about fat

Do you know what fat is?

Have you ever heard that you should eat, or that you shouldn’t eat fat? Or more precisely saturated fat?

Did someone told you: eat blueberries! they are full in antioxidants?

I bet you did. And even if you do hear this every day, maybe you have no clue about what is this all about.

Don’t worry, it was the same for me, until recently. I will try to explain it below, as simple as I can, so that it won’t be mumbo-jumbo anymore.

What you need to understand here is:

  • What is fat and what are the difference between saturated, mono- and poly-unsaturated fat?
  • What is oxidation and how is this happening?
  • What are free radicals?
  • What are antioxidants?

Note: if you don’t want to read the whole article, just jump at the end of the page and read the summary where there are captured in bullet points the main ideas of the blog.  

First, what the hell is fat? Did you know that actually fat is an acid?

3fatsdiagram

The COOH letters (the group from the right) simply means that this is an acid… Fat = acid… who would thought about that? But I’m not going into too many details here.

So, above you can see represented a molecule of a fatty acid. I’m putting it down here because if you have a visual representation, it will make things easier to imagine and remember.

But let’s try to make this an imagination exercise. Think of the fat molecule from above as a biiiig happy family, that we will further call the “Fatty family”. They are sitting at the dinner table, having a 2 or 3-course dinner, depending how hungry they are. In this picture, imagine that the people at the table are the C atoms and the courses are the H atoms. When everybody gets all the courses, they get their bellies full and won’t think of food anymore…. Happy family…

The “Fatty family” is now a SATURATED fat, because every atom of carbon is fully connected and there are no free spaces at the table for the carbon atoms to link with another element. Their belly is full, so they are stable.

Well, one evening, the youngest kid doesn’t get a desert (electron) anymore, so she has to stay full less food, so she is upset and starts to cry… But her bigger brother, which loves his little sister very much, is willing to share his desert (a double bond with the next C atom instead of 1 H bound). This is a MONO-unsaturated fat, because only 1 (mono) person didn’t get the desert served at the table.

sharing cake

When both kids don’t receive the desert, then things become really nasty. Now the Fatty family becomes a POLI-unsaturated fat, as there are more (poli) people at the table to have their belly half empty.

Well, in general, this is a peaceful family, which likes to be in balance and have every family member with their belly full (a stable molecule) and when this doesn’t happen, they become nervous and agitated.

But the Fatty family, has some Oxygen guests invited at the table (oh, these Oxygens are everywhere…), which are very easy going and they are willing to give their desert to the kids (the O gives one electron to the C). In this way, the whole Fatty family has a full belly now and they will make new bonds with the Oxygens. The Fatty family is now OXIDISED.

Well, this may look as a happy thing at a first glance, but things are not so great, because these Oxygen dudes, even if they like to share their electrons with others, they like to have their electrons in pair. They are like those cuckoo people, that when they are out of their medication, they are not stable anymore and they just go nuts.

This bonds with the Oxygens have veeeery bad consequence because the Oxygens are getting crazy. As soon as the dinner is over, they go into town hunting for some desert. Now they are called FREE RADICALS.

joker-getting crazy

So, the Free Radicals go like crazy into the city until they find someone who has a desert and steals it (steals an electron)!!! Sometime, the person who gets his desert stolen, goes nuts too and run further to steal another desert, becoming in turn a Free Radical (this is creating a cascade of free radicals). But sometimes, the victim is too weak to run for other’s desert and dies in hunger!!!!!! (This is how free radicals kills other cells.)

villain stealing cake

Sometimes, in their fanatic craziness, the Free Radicals run into the baker’s shop. The baker sees the Free Radical craziness and is willing to give his deserts for free, just to stop this madness. The baker, in this case is the Antioxidant, who has some extra electrons to give away without compromising the stability of his molecule.

baker

See now? The more double bounds a fat molecule has, the more this molecule is unstable and prone to make bonds with the oxygen and to create free radicals?

The more free radicals you have in your body, the bigger the possibility to have cells that can die.

If you have plenty of antioxidants available, you can tame many of the free radicals. But if the number of the free radicals is much higher than the number of antioxidants, then more vital cells have their electrons stolen.

The immune system uses the free radicals to fight pathogens using the same mechanism, but again, if the number of the free radicals is out of control, things goes south.

Please bear in mind, despite all of the things described above, we do need in our body a certain amount of mono and poly-unsaturated fats. Is all about the balance.

Taking into consideration what I have described above, think about this:

  • Most of the vegetables oils are very unstable poly-unsaturated fats…
  • Olive oil is mono-unsaturated fat, and
  • Coconut oil and butter are saturated fat…

So, here is a short summary:

  • fats are actually fatty acids
  • saturated fats has all the available chemical bonds of the C connected to H
  • saturated fats are stable and are not easily prone to oxidation
  • when there are missing H and there are a double bonds of C in the fat molecule, this fat molecule becomes unsaturated. If there is only 1 double bond then the fat is called mono-unsaturated fat. If there are multiple double bonds, then the fat is called poly-unsaturated fat
  • unsaturated fat are unstable and tend to make a new bond with an oxygen molecule in order to regain their balance. This process is called oxidation
  • when oxidation happens, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are molecules which are missing an electron and they are going to steal other electrons from other atoms in order to gain back their balance. The new depleted molecules will steal again and so on, resulting in a cascade of free radicals
  • antioxidants are substances that can afford to give away one electron without needing to steal another one to replace it, stopping the sequence of free radical reaction.

I hope you enjoyed my little story.

Until next time…

Irina

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