News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Choosing Healthy Fats

WHAT IS FAT?

Fat is one of many nutrients found in both animal and plant foods. All meat and dairy products contain fats—and often in high quantities. Plants also contain fat, particularly fruits and vegetables like avocados, coconuts, durians, nuts, seeds, and olives.

WHY DO WE NEED FATS?

Fat is a very rich source of energy for our body, and provides the building blocks for our cell membranes as well as a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats slow down the absorption of our foods and enable our bodies to assimilate fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

WHY ARE THEY SO IMPORTANT?

An extremely low fat or no fat diet can lead to very serious health complications including depression, lack of energy, weight gain (yes, weight gain), weakened immune system, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and degenerative illnesses. Fats, like most nutrients, are essential for our overall health and happiness and should be a regular part of everyone’s daily diet.

WILL FATTY FOODS CLOG MY ARTERIES?

Extensive research has show that that a high-fat diet, specifically a diet high in saturated fat, causes increased blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, and heart disease. While this may be true with animal fats and cooked fats, raw plant fats have a completely different effect on our bodies and are an essential part of any diet.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘BAD’ FAT OR ‘GOOD’ FAT

There are not ‘bad’ fats or “good’ fats, the only bad fat is cooked fat, hydrogenated fat, trans fatty acids, and rancid fat; however, fats are not all created equal. Here are the three basic types of fats that our body needs (yes, NEEDS) to ensure optimal health.

  • Saturated: young coconut, avocado, macadamia nuts, durian
  • Monounsaturated: olive oil, avocado
  • Polyunsaturated: flaxseeds/oil, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds/oil, most vegetable oils (which should be avoided unless freshly cold-pressed)

WHAT DOES SATURATION MEAN?

The saturation of a fat refers to its chemical stability. As a general rule, saturated fats (butter, coconut oil) are solid at room temperature, and mono and polyunsaturated fats are liquid. The more saturated a fat, the more stable it is and hence less susceptible it is to rancidity. For this reason, saturated or monounsaturated fats should be the only fats used for cooking, however, most households and restaurants cook exclusively with highly unstable polyunsaturated fats because they are cheaper and are wrongly considered a healthier choice.

WHAT IS A RANCID FAT?

Rancid fats are fats that have essentially spoiled due to oxidation, light damage, or most often because they were heated. Because most oils and butters contain very little protein, we are usually unable to detect rancidity by smell and taste, so most people have no idea that their kitchens are filled with rancid products.
Rancid fats are filled with free radicals that are responsible for numerous health complications including premature aging, cancer, and degenerative illnesses. Free radicals are the “bad guys” in our bodies that act as catalysts for countless problems, and the less we are exposed to the better.

WHAT ARE HYDROGENATED FATS?

Hydrogenated fats are unsaturated fats that have usually been mixed with tiny metal particles (usually nickel oxide) and then subjected to hydrogen gas in a high pressure, high temperature reactor. Next, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency, and then the oil is heated again and steam cleaned to remove unpleasant odors. Margarine’s natural color, an unappetizing grey, is removed with bleach, dyes, and flavors so it looks more like butter.
Hydrogenated fats have been linked to cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation, and problems with bones and tendons.

WHAT ARE TRANS FATTY ACIDS

Trans fatty acids are mutated fat molecules that result during the hydrogenation process. These mutated molecules have a different shape than healthy fat molecules and are incorporated into our bodies—and eventually into our cellular wall. They can block cell respiration and effectively throw a wrench into our system on the cellular level.

ESSENTAIL FATTY ACIDS (EFA’s or Vitamin F)

Essential fatty acids are fats that our body CANNOT produce. Our body has the ability to produce many fatty acids from other nutrients such as carbohydrates, but essential fatty acids must be obtained through our food or we will become deficient. The two most important EFAs are Omega-3 and Omega-6 that are found most abundantly in whole or freshly ground flaxseeds.

FAT IN YOUR DIET

When you are trying to make healthier food choices, it is important not to neglect fat. Many people who start eating more fruits and vegetables complain that they feel hungry constantly or that they never feel satisfied. Often, this is because they are not eating enough fats.

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