Fats In Your Diet
Confused about which fats to add and take out of your diet? Here I explain the good, the bad and the ugly of this confusing food group.
FATS: WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
First of all, with all the talk about going fat-free and sans-cholesterol these days, you'd think the healthiest lifestyle is one which is completely pure of any thing remotely related to this food group. However, fats happen to be essential to the body and perform many vital functions. They are so important that even the healthiest edibles like carrots and lettuce contain a small portion of fat. Who knew?
Their key role is in providing energy and keeping the body temperature at an essential level. Estrogen, testosterone and Vitamin D are some of the important compounds that the body uses cholesterol to produce. Even nerve fibers benefit from it as they carry messages faster.
The vitamins A, D, E and K are transported around the entire body through fat.
Fat can often increase the taste and palatability of food.
Necessary nutrients like EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) and fat-soluble vitamins are supplied by fat to the body.
Cardiac health and the body's immune system are both improved because of EFAs.
Fats are crucial to membrane structure.
The delicate internal organs of the body are protected through the cushioning fats provide.
Fats can also act as fuel storage. It places itself in the adipose tissue, which is a layer of tissue beneath the skin, and provides lasting fuel.
TYPES OF FATS
The key to fats is choosing the right ones as some are detrimental to your health. There are different types of fats depending on their source. Some are healthy for the body while some are harbingers of obesity and cardiac problems. All fats affect your blood cholesterol level. So, before distinguishing between good and bad fats, I want to explain the two types of cholesterol:
LDL (Low-density Lipoprotein): Cholesterol is transported to everywhere in your body through LDL or "bad" cholesterol. Higher levels of LDL can lead to blockages, hardening and narrowing of your arteries.
HDL (High-density Lipoprotein): Excess cholesterol is picked up and taken back to the liver by the HDL or "good" cholesterol.
THE GOOD: UNSATURATED AND POLYUNSATURATED FATS:
(Primary Sources: Vegetables & Vegetable Oils).
Found in vegetable oils, unsaturated fats are the healthiest fats because they are very beneficial for the body, especially in lowering overall cholesterol levels in blood, decreasing LDL and preventing heart disease. Recent studies have even shown positive effects of unsaturated fats on colon cancer. Besides plant-based oils, nuts and seeds are two other sources for unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are in liquid form at room temperature.
Information on fish oils. Not the wonder food/fat you may think it is.
THE BAD: SATURATED FATS:
(Primary sources: Animal fats and dairy products).
Saturated fats are made naturally by our body in the amount that we require. So any additional intake is unnecessary and that’s what makes them the bad fats. Saturated fat has particularly adverse effects on cardiovascular health. Total cholesterol level of the body is elevated because of them as they boost the incredibly harmful LDL. The healthy HDL is also increased but you’re better off with unsaturated fats from vegetable sources as they only increase the good cholesterol, and reduce the bad.
The major sources of saturated fats are, as mentioned, animal products. Here’s a comprehensive list of what edibles contain the highest levels of these fats:
Dairy fats (cheese, ice-cream and milk)
Coconut and palm oil - although research is now showing that these oils may be beneficial to health. I advise that you do your own research on these two oils.
As saturated fat is found in almost every food, you should try to keep your consumption at less than 7% of your total calorific intake.
THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY: TRANS FATS
(Primary Sources: Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, fried foods, margarine, shortening and commercial baked goods).
Hydrogenation is a process which includes the heating of vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen. This method to make vegetable oils solid in form to facilitate transportation, more stable, and less susceptible to spoilage is what creates Trans fats (Trans-fatty acids). Fast food joints take full benefit of the fact that partially hydrogenated oils can be heated again and again without damage to its structure. That is why fried food like French fries contains the highest level of trans-fats.
Trans-fats not only increase the bad LDL it also reduces the beneficial HDL. In that way its damage is twofold and therefore extremely bad for cholesterol levels in blood. Inflammation, which is the immune system’s over activity, is also produced due to trans-fats, which has been linked to stroke, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases.
Trans-fat is bad even in the smallest quantities. Daily intake, of this fat, as little as two percent of the whole calorie intake is enough to raise your risk for heart disease by as much as 23% (And to think that a medium order of French fries at fast-food joints fulfills the 2% requirement!). Another statistic that should make you go running for your pure vegetable and plant based oils is that trans-fat presence in food supply results in as much as 19% of heart attacks (and related deaths). That’s more than 200,000 deaths a year.
Here are some of the food items that are rich in trans-fats (keep this list in mind and steer clear of any item that is present on it). For a percentage breakdown of trans-fats presence in these foods, take a look at the accompanying pie-chart.
CHOOSING GOOD FATS AND AVOIDING BAD FATS:
Vegetable and plant-based oils emerge as the clear winner for healthy oil and fat choices. Not only do they fulfill the body’s requirement of fat, they also have positive effects on cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Animal based oils and hydrogenated oils have the most adverse effects on your health. Take a look at the diagram below which shows you the percentage contribution of fats in all the major oil types.
Apart from palm and coconut, all types of vegetable oils have saturated fats in quantities less than 2.5 grams per tablespoon. Beef Tallow and Lard, two commonly used animal based fat sources are alarmingly high in saturated fat. The vegetable oils also present a clear advantage in good fats. The high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in plant-based oils are good for you.
Having opted for vegetable oils, there are also other ways you can reduce the saturated fats and trans-fats in your diet.
Take a look at food labels before you buy food products. The labels will tell you about the constituents of the product in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and fats etc. Choose edibles that are very low in saturated fats, if not almost free of it.
Don't buy partially hydrogenated oils as they contain dangerous levels of trans-fats. You could get "completely" or "fully" hydrogenated oils, contradictory as it may sound. The process for the fully hydrogenated counterparts does not yield trans-fats.
Animal fats are heavy in saturated fats and therefore unhealthy. Red meat does have really high levels of protein but while you can get your protein requirements satiated with vegetable sources, the dangerous level of saturated fat in beef and mutton could increase your risk for cardiac diseases and obesity.
Fight the trans-fats with choosing alternatives for cakes and cookies. Nuts are delicious and healthy. Snacks don’t have to be hazardous for your health!
Don't fry. Instead grill, steam and sauté!
Choose alternative milk products such as soya or rice milk.
Instead of butter and margarine, try vegetable oils (Bread dipped in olive oil tastes better than you would think).
You can see from the above information that vegetable oils are the healthy option. Animal based oils and products have the highest degree of bad fats so choose vegetable oils for your healthy diet.
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