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Understand fats: unsaturated, saturated, omega 3, omega 6 and MCTs

Understand fats: unsaturated, saturated, omega 3, omega 6 and MCTs

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Saturated or unsaturated, long, medium or short chain: These terms appear again and again in connection with fats. But what do they stand for and what should you do with them in the kitchen? What is omega-6 fatty acids and why are they a problem? The fat information in the nutritional table is just as annoying as the fat on the stomach.

Fatty acids are described chemically on the one hand by their chain lengths, on the other hand by their binding character. Fats with single bonds are referred to as saturated, while the double bonds make them unsaturated fats (unsaturated graphic below).

Saturated and unsaturated fats
Saturated and unsaturated fats

Chain length and binding properties not only say something about the chemical properties, but also about their health value . The consistency provides an indication of what type of fat you are dealing with:


Unsaturated fatty acids

Various unsaturated fatty acids such as the group of omega-3 fatty acids, but also monounsaturated oleic acid (especially much of it is found in olive oil ) and double unsaturated linoleic acid (especially in safflower and grape seed oil ) are important for our metabolism and are known for this to do our health good. Omega-3 fatty acids have a particularly favorable effect on the structure of cell membranes and are mainly found in fatty sea ​​fish .

Another important source of omega-3 fatty acids are products from animals from natural pasture husbandry, i.e. milk, dairy products, meat, bacon etc. Omega-3 from the grass accumulates in it, which is why the butter of cows from pasture husbandry also contains a relevant one Proportion of these healthy fats. In addition, olive oil is good for people because of its high content of monounsaturated oleic acid.

A ratio of many omega-3 to a few omega-6 fatty acids (the optimal ratio is 1: 2) in our diet maintains our health and protects against many diseases. These include cardiovascular diseases and hardening of the arteries . Omega-3 and Omega-6 are particularly important for inflammatory diseases and degenerative diseases, since these fatty acids regulate inflammatory processes. For example, in rheumatism , which is associated with inflammation and pain problems, a high intake of omega-3 and a low intake of omega-6 fatty acids act in such an amount that certain pain transmitters, the prostaglandins, can be produced to a much lesser extent than usual .

Good sources of omega-3 are especially fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines. Due to the pollution of the oceans, the heavy metal content should be taken into account. In this regard, fish such as herring, sardines and mackerel are better because they are earlier in the food chain than, for example, salmon and tuna.

Omega 3 intake via dietary supplements? A recommended remedy here is pollutant-tested fish oils and even better algae oils. Microalgae such as the freshwater algae Chlorella and Spirulina have been on the market for several years, mostly as food supplements. A large number of manufacturers offer omega-3-rich algae oil in the form of pellets, capsules or as a mixture with other vegetable oils such as linseed or walnut oil (attention walnut has a very high proportion of omega-6). Oils enriched with algae oil can be found primarily in health food stores and organic shops as well as online shops.

China is the world's largest producer of algae. France is expected to deliver the most microalgae in Europe with a harvest of 90,000 tonnes. Measured against the global algae production of around 21 million tons, however, this is a negligible proportion.

Omega-6 fatty acids

Too much omega-6 in the diet can promote chronic inflammation . It is worth avoiding popular fats such as sunflower, wheat germ, rapeseed, soy and thistle oil and margarine made from them . These fats can give rise to unhealthy trans fat, especially when heated .

For hundreds of thousands of years, fats were present in the human diet in a certain ratio to which human metabolism has adapted. Food with a lot of omega 6 fatty acids was consumed comparatively little, foods rich in omega 3 more. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 was around 1: 1 to 4: 1. Today, foods with omega-3 fatty acids are less common, while omega-6 fatty acids are abundant. Modern human nutrition therefore has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of approximately 20: 1, which can be responsible for a large number of inflammations. Discover more of such tips and tricks on the topic of nutrition in our free 6-minute Guide to Wellbeing .

Possible consequences of too many omega 6 fatty acids in the diet

Excessive consumption of omega 6 fatty acids creates an inflammation-promoting environment in the body, which is favored by these fats directly via inflammation-promoting signal substances or indirectly via trans fats and oxidative stress.

What are the possible long-term health consequences of eating too many omega 6 fatty acids?

  • depressions
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease)
  • Immunodeficiency (immune cell imbalance)
  • Autoimmune diseases (systemic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus erythematosus)
  • Cardiovascular diseases and arteriosclerosis
  • Skin problems (including chronic skin diseases such as neurodermatitis)
  • Overweight
  • Mood swings
  • Asthma
  • Thrombosis

Saturated fatty acids

Fats with saturated fatty acids , which are chemically stable and hardly change when heated , have fallen into disrepute . These fats are said to have a negative effect on cholesterol levels . As always, you have to take a differentiated look at the studies. It is often overlooked that a higher consumption of saturated fats is associated with other unhealthy foods such as sausages, finished products, etc.

Animal saturated fats from butter or bacon can be consumed in conscious amounts without hesitation. Saturated fats are rare in the vegetable kingdom. There are only two types that contain a high proportion of saturated fats that are important for our diet: coconut fat and palm kernel oil (not to be confused with palm oil).

AURUM strength training and fats: MCT Oil and slimming
Coconut fat


Medium-chain fatty acids, or MCT fats for short, have a decisive advantage: they have the unusual property of being absorbed very quickly and converted into ketone bodies in the liver. With this fat the desired ketosis (fat metabolism) can be achieved much faster than with other fats.

The native coconut oil is unbeatable in its content of MCT fats - preferably from organic production, because it contains approx. 50% MCT fats. Of the fats that we usually use, only butter still contains a relevant proportion (approx. 10%) of medium-chain fatty acids. Unfortunately, coconut oil is often said to be less healthy because it mainly contains saturated fatty acids. However, it is now known that coconut fat is not only metabolized quickly and has a ketogenic effect, but also has a number of other positive health effects.

We love fats  

Omega-3 fatty acids and MCT fats have many beneficial properties and should be the focus when choosing fats . Organic is the first choice, because it is not just an ingredient that counts, but the big picture.

Organic grass fed butter
Organic grass fed butter

1. Animal products from meat to milk

The content of omega-3 fatty acids in all animal products is heavily dependent on the feed . The animals accumulate the good fatty acids from the fresh grass in meat and milk. Therefore, pay attention to pasture or grass feeding . Lard is ideal for frying (our grandmothers would say that too!) And bacon contributes an aroma with numerous aroma substances, while being rich in good fatty acids. Butter and creamare the only animal fats that have medium chain fatty acids that can be quickly converted to ketones. They are mild, versatile and serve as natural flavor enhancers. The general rule is that dairy products have an inflammatory effect on the body, so it is advisable to reduce consumption to a minimum.

Sardines as a perfect source of omega-3 fatty acids
Sardines as a perfect source of omega-3 fatty acids

2. Marine animals

High-fat marine fish such as eel, mackerel, sardine, salmon or herring are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The content of these valuable fatty acids also comes from their diet. Targeted and species-appropriate feeding can produce very high levels of good fatty acids. Fish that are not properly fed in aquaculture are relatively poor in it. For wildly caught fish and seafood, pay attention to environmentally friendly fishing methods, recognizable by the MSC seal.

High quality olive oil - rich in reservatrol
High quality olive oil - rich in reservatrol

3. Vegetable oils / plant based sources

There are two aspects to a good vegetable oil:

Cold-pressed oils still contain all the good ingredients such as vitamins .

  • Organic coconut oil (virgin coconut oil) is the first choice for roasting and baking.
  • Olive oil  is mainly used in cold dishes or as a flavoring agent dripped over dishes. With its high oleic acid content , it regulates fat metabolism and reduces the proportion of toxic fats .
  • So does avocado oil : half of it is oleic acid . Vegetable and mushroom dishes, salads and soups give the oil a nutty note.
  • Walnut, hazel or macadamia nut oils are also suitable for cold cooking, but are not suitable for heating. They contain a balanced mix of healthy fats . Just a few drops refine salads, soups and vegetable dishes.
  • Linseed oil  must also not be heated. Its 6: 1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is almost ideal for human metabolism. But! The omega-3 fatty acids mainly occur in linseed oil in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and then have to be laboriously converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are highly usable for humans. Flaxseed oil has many good properties, but it is not the healer in Omega-3, as is often propagated.

Enjoy your meal! Fat shaming no more!


The book Low Carb High Fat by Nico Stanizok, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Vormann




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