This month's articles have been on a variety of topics regarding nutrition and your health. To continue with this, I felt it was very important to address the facts about the fats that we eat. It can be very confusing when reading about what we should and shouldn't be eating and fats is definitely one of these topics! In the past we were told that when we eat fat we gain weight, and that our cholesterol will go up and our risk of cardiovascular disease increases. We have eliminated a lot of fat from the North American diet and all of these problems have increased. This has occurred mainly because we have eliminated the bad fats, but more importantly the good fats too, and replaced both of these with sugar. The truth is that fat is an essential part of our diet: it's a major source of energy, it helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals, it is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is also essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. It is important for your health to know there are different types of fats.
The worst type of dietary fats are trans fat. These can be from natural animal sources but most of it is a by-product of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids to give them longer shelf life and prevent them from becoming rancid. Food labels will list if trans fats are present but often trans fats are not listed and are hidden in the food and listed as "partially hydrogenated oil". These fats can be found in many foods including: fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarine's and other spreads. Trans fats are such a concern that the World Health Organization has called for the elimination of them by 2023. Many countries, including the USA have deemed them unhealthy for consumption and should be eliminated in your diet. Research has shown that even small amounts of artificial trans fats can increase the risk for heart disease by increasing LDL "bad" cholesterol and decreasing HDL "good" cholesterol. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans fats consumption as low as possible.
Saturated fats are also considered "bad fats" when consumed in excess. Saturated fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature. (think bacon grease) The American heart association recommends that 5-6% of total calories comes from Saturated fats. There has been recent studies that have shown natural sources of saturated fats do not raise your risk of heart disease and it is best to stay away from processed foods with saturated fats such as cured meats. It is shown in multiple studies that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats does lower risk of heart disease. More research is underway to determine the true risk of saturated fats.
Excessive intake of saturated fats is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease, poor blood viscosity, breast cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke and prostate cancer.
Unsaturated fats are the good guys and are found as liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fats that include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can help improve your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. It may also help you control your insulin levels and blood sugar. , avocados, olives, walnuts and liquid vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.
Polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in fish such as salmon, trout and herring. They can be further divided into two types: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your body needs polyunsaturated fats to function. This type of fat helps with muscle movement and blood clotting. Since your body doesn’t make it, you have to get it in your diet.
Careful when overheating high unsaturated fat oils as this can decrease their antioxidant abilities and produce free radicals that are harmful for our health.
Below is a great summary:
The biggest thing you can do is to choose healthy fats. And the only way to know what you are eating is to read the nutritional labels of your food. With Trans fats, seek foods with zero of these and watch for the hidden ones under the ingredient "hydrogenated vegetable oil". Food guidelines allow .5 grams of trans fats per serving and still allow the manufacturer to say that the product is "trans fat-free" so be careful as these can add up to be harmful. Good fats include sources like: Avocado, olives, salmon, mackerel, herring, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, eggs, and my favorite: dark chocolate. Avoid highly processed foods and most baked goods, french fries, margarine sticks, microwave popcorn, potato chips and vegetable shortening. A great resource to go to is the American heart Association. Make some small changes in your diet and have a huge change in your health!