UNDERSTANDING FAT (from ACE Fit Tips)
For decades we were told that fat was a three-letter word and that its use should be minimized to help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. But like much that we have learned in the constantly evolving science of nutrition, not everything we thought was true was set in stone.
Over the past decade and a half, what researchers have found is quite interesting: Dietary fat is much more complicated than “include” or “avoid.” Fats can now be better classified into those that promote inflammation and illness and those that reduce inflammation and risk of disease.
Fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) and contains nine calories per gram. Fat is essential in the diet as it helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and is a source of energy and a building block for hormones. It also helps keep skin and hair healthy, is a part of every cell membrane, and is important for the myelin sheaths around nerves.
The two best sources of dietary fats are monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Researchers concluded that following a Mediterranean diet that is rich in plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes), moderate in red wine and dairy, and lower in meat and meat products was associated with lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast cancer. The Mediterranean diet is rich in both MUFAs and omega-3s.
Dietary sources of MUFAs include avocado, olive oil, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and peanuts. MUFAs have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and reduce both blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Omega-3 fats are one type of fat in the PUFA category. The other well-known PUFA is the omega-6 fats. There is a lot of controversy regarding omega-6 fats. Both omega-3s and 6s are “essential fats”, which means your body needs them but cannot produce them; the only source is from food.
However, the typical diet is very high in omega 6s as it is found in corn, soy and cottonseed oils, as well as in most commercially prepared meals and packaged foods. Omega-6s have been linked to increased levels of inflammation in the body.
Omega-3 fats are consistently viewed as anti-inflammatory and come from both animal and plant sources. Fatty fish, such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and tuna are among the best sources of the omega-3s EPA and DHA, which have been linked to heart, brain and eye health, as well as decreased joint pain. They may also be beneficial for depression and ADHD. Plant sources of omega-3s, include flax, walnuts and seaweed. It is recommended to get at least 8 ounces of omega-3-rich fish per week and daily intake of plant sources.
Saturated fats are hard at room temperature and found in meat, dairy, coconut oil, palm oil, butter and lard. These foods have long been demonized for increasing cardiovascular risk because they were thought to increase total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. However, recent studies, such as this one published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have shown that there is no significant evidence for concluding that saturated fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
While the consensus among health organizations that saturated fat is not the evil it was once believe to be, it is still recommended to get most fat from MUFAs and omega-3s.
The number-one fat that is universally agreed upon to avoid is trans fat. Although trans fats occur naturally in some foods, they are more commonly known as artificial fats produced through the process of hydrogenation. Trans fats were created by food manufacturers because they have a long shelf life and can prevent a food from going rancid quickly.
Although trans fats were a boon for food manufacturers, studies have shown that trans fats increase both total and LDL cholesterol, as well as decrease HDL, creating inflammation and increasing risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Trans fats are found in vegetable shortening, pre-mixed products (cake and brownie mix), fried foods and prepackaged snack foods. As no amount is considered healthy, the best way to decrease this type of fat is to avoid products that have the words “Partially hydrogenated oil” on the label.
|GOOD FATS||BAD FATS||NEUTRAL FATS|
|Avocado, Olive Oil, Almond, Cashews, Walnuts, Flaxseeds (ground, Chia Seeds, Coconut Oil, Salmon, Tuna, Halibut, Sardines, Herring, Mackerel||Trans fats – shortening, fried food, packaged baking mixes, packaged baked goods||Saturated fats – Butter, Dairy, Eggs|
PERCEPTION VS REALITY– A recent poll conducted by Truven Health Analytics™ shows that more than one-third of American adults are overweight or obese, yet according to the data collected in this poll of 3,000, nearly 75% of those surveyed ranked their eating habits as good (33.5%), very good (28.2%) or excellent (13.2%). In addition, recent data from the CDC show that fewer than 20% of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. How about you? Is your perception of your diet realistic, or a bit idealistic?