Growing up, we were taught to believe the F word was a bad thing with harmful repercussions. The truth is, the F word can actually be pretty good for you. In fact, you really can’t live without it. Of course we’re talking about Fat, and the effects it has on your well-being. With so much misconception surrounding this F word, it’s important to gain a better understanding of the facts when it comes to fat.
Like root canals, or hemorrhoids, many believe there’s no such thing as a good fat. Unfortunately, this common misconception leads them to steer clear of all fats, including “good" ones that are a necessity to a healthy diet. These good fats protect our organs and tissue, help maintain our body temperature, and regulate our metabolism. In addition, some types of fat play a significant role in brain development, inflammation control, and absorption of essential vitamins.
Yet with all these beneficial functions, fat can be equally as harmful to your health. An overabundance of fat can lead to obesity, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body. Studies consistently show that the strains of excess body weight can cause strokes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers. Then there’s the case of bad fats, which elevate the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad" cholesterol in our bodies, while reducing the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good" cholesterol.
So what is one to think when it comes to fat in their diet? Basically, it’s this: What matters most is the type of fat you eat. Identifying and understanding the differences between good and bad fats are essential for maintaining optimal health. With that said, here’s a closer look at the good and the bad fats, and the types of foods in which you will find them.
In the fight against coronary disease and other serious physical ailments, good will always prevail over bad when it comes to fats. The two main types of good fats are Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fat. These unsaturated fats can be found mainly in oils from plants, seeds, nuts and fish.
These foods are rich in monounsaturated fats:
- Nuts: almonds, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, cashews
- Seeds: sesame
- Oils: sesame, peanut, canola, and olive
These foods are high in polyunsaturated fats:
- Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower
- Fish: herring, salmon, sardines, tuna
- Oils: safflower, soybean, corn
Studies show that eating these foods helps to improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Found in some types of fatty fish, omega-3 fatty acids is one type of polyunsaturated fat that may be especially beneficial to your heart.
When it comes to bad fat, there are two types that prove to be harmful to your health: saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat comes mainly from animal sources of food, such as beef, poultry and pork. This bad fat can also be found in dairy products and certain types of vegetable oils. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad" cholesterol, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
The other “bad” fat is Trans-fat. Like saturated fats, research has shown that trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This double hit can significantly increase your risk of coronary heart disease. The majority of trans fats are made during food processing through partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fats. This process creates fats that are easier in which to cook. Hydrogenation also helps to increase the shelf life, and enhance the flavor of the product. In some cases, foods containing trans-fats are hard to identify. If the words “hydrogenated" or “partially hydrogenated," appear on the label those foods contain the unhealthy trans fats.
- Whole milk
These foods often contain trans fats and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Potato Chips
- Cakes, pastries, cookies
- Oils: palm kernel, coconut
- Non-dairy creamer
- Fried foods
When it comes to fat consumption, the key to a healthy diet is to understand the differences between “good” and “bad” fats, and choose on the side of good as often as possible. And of course, do your best to use the F word in moderation.
written by, Ian Cohen
© H.I.C. Digestive Health 2011