I wanted to write to you about the role fats and oils play in our health. A fat free diet isn't something I advocate, it's the type of fat that matters in addition to how much you consume. Reducing your intake of some types of fats reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, but other types of fats are absolutely essential to our health and well-being.
Healthy Fats are
Essential to Good Health
The human body uses fatty acids to do everything from building cell membranes to performing key functions in the brain, eyes, and lungs. The functions of fats include:
Brain - Fats compose 60% of the brain and are essential to brain function, including learning abilities, memory retention and moods. Fats are especially important for pregnant women, since they are integral to fetal brain development.
Cells - Fatty acids help your cells stay moveable and flexible, as well as being responsible for building cell membranes.
Heart - 60% of our heart's energy comes from burning fats. Specific fats are also used to help keep the heart beating in a regular rhythm.
Nerves - Fats compose the material that insulates and protects the nerves, isolating electrical impulses and speeding their transmission.
Lungs - Lungs require a high concentration of saturated fats, enables the lungs to work and keeps them from collapsing.
Eyes - Fats are essential to eye function.
Digestion - Fats in a meal slow down the digestion process so the body has more time to absorb nutrients, and help provide a constant level of energy and keeps the body satiated for longer periods of time. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can only be absorbed if fat is present.
Organs - Fats cushion and protect your internal organs.
Immune System - Fats ease inflammation, helping your metabolism and immune system stay healthy and functioning.
Different Kinds of Fat
To understand good and bad fats you need to know the names of the players and some information about them:
These are the type of fats that should be used as a preference when cooking.
Primary sources are plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil and olive oil. Other good sources are avocados; nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans; and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds.
People following traditional Mediterranean diets, which are very high in foods containing monounsaturated fats like olive oil, tend to have lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
These are deemed to be heart-healthy when consumed in moderation.
Primary sources are sunflower, corn, soybean and flaxseed oils, and also foods such as walnuts, flax seeds and fish.
This fat family includes the Omega-3 group of fatty acids which your body can't make and are found in few foods. We should all be increasing our intake of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, which we need for body functions like controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. We're still learning about the many benefits of Omega-3, but research has shown this fatty acid can have a positive impact on cardiovascular disease, liver cancer,
These increase both good and bad cholesterol and should be eaten in moderation - choose lean meats and trim off the fat.
Primary sources are animal sources including red meat and whole milk dairy products. Other sources are tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and foods made with these oils. Poultry and fish contain saturated fat, but less than red meat.
Saturated fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), but there has also been misleading information regarding saturated fats.
These are unsaturated fats that are not required or beneficial for health. It is best to consume as little as possible.
Trans fats are created by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogentation. Partially hydrogentating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil, which is very good for food manufacturers - and very bad for you.
Primary sources of trans fat are vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, biscuits, potato chips, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Trans fat raises bad cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease as well as lowering good cholesterol.
BE A TRANS FAT DETECTIVE
Use your own investigative skills to avoid trans fats:
When shopping, read the labels and watch out for "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients. Even if the food claims to be trans fat free, this ingredients tells you that the product is a trans fat suspect.
When eating out, put fried foods, biscuits and other baked goods on your "skip" list. Avoid these products unless you know that the restaurant has eliminated trans fat.
Most states have no labeling regulations for fast food and it can even be advertised as cholesterol-free and cooked in vegetable oil. Eating one doughnut at breakfast (3.2g of TFA) and a large order of french fries at lunch (6.8g of TFA) adds 10 grams of TFA to one's diet, according to the American Heart Association.
All Fatty Foods Contain Several Forms
of Fats in Varying Degrees
Each type of fat or oil is a mixture of different kinds of fats. The following chart shows how common oils have a balance of all the different types of fat:
How Much Fat is Too Much?
How much fat is too much depends on your lifestyle, your weight, your age and most importantly the state of your health. In America it is recommended that the average individual:
Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet).
Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2 grams per day for a 2000 cal diet)
Limit cholesterol to 300mg per day
How do you go about implementing these recommendations? The simplest way to approach fats is to replace the saturated and trans fat in your diet with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and to increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. Use these percentages to your advantage by making sure the fat you do consume is healthy (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated).
Fat Friendly Lifestyle Tips
OUT WITH THE BAD, IN WITH THE GOOD
Okay so you realize you need to avoid saturated fat and trans fat... but how do you get the healthy monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats everyone keeps talking about?
Dress your own salad. Commercial salad dressings are often high in saturated fat, unhealthy chemicals and made with inferior, overly-processed, damaged oils. Create your own dressings with high-quality, cold-pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil and your favourite herbs.
What's better: butter or margarine? Both have good and bad points. With margarine, choose the soft-tub versions, and make sure the product has zero grams trans fats and no partially hydrogenated oils. Regardless of whether you choose butter or margarine, use it in moderation and avoid adding it to other foods. Olive oil is a healthier substitute.
The meat of the matter. Beef, pork, lamb, and dairy products are high in saturated fat. Choose low-fat milk and lower-fat cheese like mozzarella whenever possible; enjoy full-fat dairy in moderation. Go for lean cuts of meat, and stick to white meat, which has less saturated fat.
Don't go no-fat, go good fat. If you are concerned about your weight or heart health, rather than avoiding fat in your diet, try replacing all the bad fats with good fats. this might mean replacing some of the meat you eat with beans and legumes, and using vegetable oils rather than tropical oils, which tend to contain more saturated fats.
Ask what type of oil your food is cooked in. When eating out, ask your server or counter person what type of oil they use in their cooking. It it's partially-hydrogenated oil, run the other way. Otherwise, see if you can request your food to be prepared using olive oil, which most restaurants have in stock.
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