Fat in the diet has always been looked at with scorn. We’re so used to being told that fat is bad for us; that the idea that it might actually be good is difficult to digest. But hold on! There are good fats and bad fats. It’s the good fat that’s good for us. Now, what’s this good and bad fat? What’s good about fat, you may ask!
Quality matters just as much as quantity when it comes to consuming fats. Diets with a higher percentage of fats – if they are the good sort – can actually be better for you than their low-fat counterparts, according to a report issued by the American Heart Association (AHA).
- What are Dietary Fats?
- What are Trans Fats?
- Saturated Vs. Unsaturated Fat
- Omega 3 Vs. Omega 6 fats
What are Dietary Fats?
Let’s look at dietary fat in a little detail. There’s saturated fat and unsaturated fat. More on saturated fat later but for now let’s assume that it’s the fat that everyone tells you to stay away from.
Besides other health problems, it can sabotage a weight loss program. It’s easy to understand why. At nine calories per gram, it packs more than twice the calories of carbohydrate and protein.
But wait! It’s wrong to equate only dietary fat with body fat. You can get fat by eating excess carbohydrates and protein too. Excess calories from any source are responsible for weight gain.
What are Trans Fats?
And worse than saturated fats found naturally in meat, butter, cream, ice cream and other with animal and dairy fat, is the man-made Trans Fat.
Trans Fat is found in margarine, packaged food, pastries, fries, fast food and all bakery products. It’s a trend today to buy packaged foods, so it would be good to read labels carefully to find foods you like that are low in Trans Fat.
Harmful Effects of Trans Fats
- Trans fat is a cholesterol raising, heart weakening, diabetes causing, belly building chemical.
- It raises LDL and lowers HDL. Also, raises blood levels of other lipoproteins. The more lipoproteins in your blood greater the risk of heart diseases.
- The higher up on the ingredient list partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are the worse foods for you.
Saturated Vs. Unsaturated Fat
Then there is Unsaturated fat – the healthy fat that everyone is endorsing. Unsaturated fat comprises of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA).
While foods tend to contain a mixture of fats, MUFA is the primary fat found in olive, canola, and sesame oils, avocados, almonds, pistachios, peanuts and peanut butter.
PUFA is the main fat in corn, cottonseed, safflower oils, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, soybeans and soybean oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil and seafood.
Benefits of Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (MUFA)
- It helps lower LDL cholesterol, the kind that can build up in arterial walls and increase your risk of heart attack.
- Lowers blood pressure improves blood clotting and normalizes blood insulin levels.
- Lowering carbohydrate intake and eating more MUFA foods is said to cut abdominal fat.
- Developers of the Flat Belly Diet suggest eating MUFA at every meal. MUFA targets belly fat. It helps control satiety.
- But you still have to consume limited amounts of this healthy fat to avoid adding too many calories to the diet.
Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA)
It supplies Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Our bodies are incapable of producing EFAs so it has to derive them from food. EFAs include linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
Linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are required to support growth and reproduction. The retina and nerves need ALA. An adequate supply of EFAs is a basic dietary requirement.
Effect of EFA Deficiency in Animals
- Reproduction fails in males. Females may become pregnant but frequently miscarry and rarely carry a litter to term.
- Wounds don’t heal because of failure of formation of connective tissue.
- Normal growth fails to occur.
- All body membranes become exceptionally permeable. Skin loses its ability to prevent passage of water. Large amounts of water are lost through the skin, the animal is thirsty but the urine is concentrated.
- Kidneys hypertrophy and are prone to hemorrhage and renal failure.
- Liver undergoes fatty degeneration.
- The immune system is defective and there is susceptibility to infection.
Omega 3 Vs. Omega 6 fats
But not all PUFAs are created equal. It is of two types – Omega 3 and Omega 6. Simply replacing dietary saturated fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids might not be enough to lower the risk of heart disease.
To obtain the heart benefits of PUFA, the emphasis should be on ALA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, and not on linoleic acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid.
The critical factor in any diet is the balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The balance of Omega-6 to Omega 3 in the ratio of 3:1 is important to reduce inflammation, the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Omega-6 fats are naturally found in all vegetables and grains. So it is not advisable to cook in sunflower, safflower, and other vegetable oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids come in more than one form. The best forms of Omega-3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – are found in fish. Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fats are also important for a child’s brain development and eyesight, and heart health. DHA and EPA have the strongest health benefits than ALA found in flaxseed and walnuts. The body can change a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very well.
Omega-3 fatty acids help your heart in several ways
- They curb inflammation in the blood vessels (and the rest of your body).
- Lower your level of triglycerides.
- Curb plaque buildup inside the blood vessels.
- Curb joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. A diet high in omega-3s may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Beware: Avoid the Omega-3 Hype
Many food products now boast that they have added omega-3 to support various aspects of your health. But be aware that the amount of omega-3 they contain may be minimal.
They may contain the ALA form of omega-3, which hasn’t yet shown the same health benefits as EPA and DHA.