Clearing The Confusion About Fats

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Fats part of a healthy diet.

Clearing the Confusion About Fats

Laurence T. Gayao, MD

A few weeks ago, I had a 57-year-old friend suddenly died of a heart attack while driving his pickup. Then I was having lunch the other day with my two sons, and one of them asked me if a 44-year-old could have a heart attack. He added that he just got news of friend who was said to have had a heart attack and was currently unconscious on life support. I said yes, and told him the youngest patient I had encountered that had heart attack was 27 years of age. All these victims had no previous known heart problems. These premature deaths underscores the importance of preventing heart disease.

Lately nutritional news releases have created confusion about role of fats in the causation of coronary heart disease. You may have heard “butter is back.” Eating fat has no bearing on coronary heart disease (CHD).  On the  other extreme fear of fats still affects many of us. Many of us may still have the mistaken notion that if we get off fats in our diets we would solve our weight problems and get rid of heart disease, because we have been constantly being told that “Fats are bad”. To add to this confusion many articles have come up with the idea that fats after all has no bearing on increasing of deaths from coronary heart disease, which of course has been repudiated by multiple studies. Lately the British Medical Journal affirmed that there is reduction of coronary heart disease by replacing bad fats with good fats in the diet.

Fats Part of Healthy Diet

The truths is, we need fats in our diet. The United States Department of Agriculture’s 2005 Guidelines recommends that adults get 20-30% of their calories from fats.  The American diet has about 34-40% calories are from fats because it tastes good and it is part of many favorite foods.

It is important at the outset to clear the confusion on dietary fats. What is its role in cardiovascular disease which is global leading cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths a year.

 Types of Fats

First, we need to know there are good and bad fats and it is recommended  to swap good fats for bad fats in our diets.

Fats we need to stay away from are the trans fats and saturated fats. These fats you find in packaged and manufactured food. Manufacturers use trans fat, partially hydrogenated oil, because it is less likely to spoil, so foods made with it have a longer shelf life. Trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature.

Saturated fats: “Examples of foods containing a high proportion of saturated fat include animal fat products such as:

  • cream
  • cheese
  • butter
  • other whole milk dairy products
  • fatty meats which also contain dietary cholesterol.
  • Certain vegetable products have high saturated fatcontent, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil.”

Is saturated fat bad for you? A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body by causing inflammation in the wall of blood vessels. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.

Monounsaturated fat: From a chemical standpoint, monounsaturated fats are simply fat molecules that have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, this is also called a double bond. Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled.

Polyunsaturated fats. “Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them. So you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.” A polyunsaturated fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond.”

What should you eat?

Foods with Monounsaturated fat — found in

  • Nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans and macadamias.
  • Canola oil
  • Nut butters
  • Peanut oil

— is a healthier option than is saturated fat. Nuts, fish and other foods containing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices of foods with healthy fats.

Polyunsaturated fats. When you pour liquid cooking oil into a pan, there’s a good chance you’re using polyunsaturated fat – common examples

  • Corn oil,
  • sunflower oil
  • safflower oil
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flax seeds or flax oil
  • Fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, and trout
  • Soybean oil

Eating polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the blood cholesterol profile. A good cholesterol profile is when your high density cholesterol is high and the low density is low. It also lowers triglycerides. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke.

In all these discussions about fats, let us not forget eating a higher percentage of calories from added sugar is associated with significantly increased risk of cardio vascular disease deaths and if combined that with eating more bad fats it puts the individual in greater danger of premature death.

So eating healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes all in moderation and staying away from manufacture foods is the key to healthy eating. Hope this helps in Clearing the Confusion About Fats.

Bon appetite,

Your fitness Doc

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