Fat: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

There’s fat and there’s fat; we need some of it in our diet, just not too much and especially not too much of the wrong kind. The issues are both quantity and quality. Fat has nine calories per gram versus four for protein and carbohydrates, so it’s a concentrated source of energy. Fat helps the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat also is the flavor carrier in food; food wouldn’t taste very good without it.

Good Fats

Monounsaturated Fats — Think nuts: peanuts, cashews, almonds and pistachios, for example. Olive oil and canola oil are also good sources, as are avocados. The good news is that these guys can actually lower LDL as well as increase HDL in our blood. HDL is what we want more of in our blood.

Polyunsaturated Fats — Seafood like salmon and fish oil have this, also corn, soy, safflower and sunflower oils. They can lower LDL, a good thing, but too much can also lower HDL, not a good thing.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids — These are a “must-have,” as our body doesn’t produce them. Good sources are cold-water fish, such as salmon, halibut and tuna, plus some nuts, like walnuts. They play a big role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Many of us take a fish oil tablet twice a day to ensure a good supply.

In the 1970s researchers studied the Greenland Inuit tribe. They eat lots of fat via seafood but have virtually no cardiovascular disease. The high level of Omega-3 fatty acids they consume was the reason.

Bad Fats

Saturated fats — Think animals; meat and dairy products are easy to remember. Beef, cheese and eggs are good examples. Some plants are sources also, like palm oil and palm kernel oil; these are often found in baked goods and chips.

What’s wrong with saturated fats? Simple; they’re the culprits that contribute to the clogging of our arteries and raise our LDL level. It’s important to minimize the consumption of saturated fats.

Ugly Fats

Trans Fats or Hydrogenated Fats — Hydrogenation is the process of treating unsaturated fats with hydrogen to make them saturated. They then take on the characteristics of saturated fat, including increased stability. The result is the formation of trans fats. Why do this? Because products treated with hydrogenated fats have a longer shelf life. Good examples are cookies, cakes, French fries and donuts.

If the label of a product says it contains hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil, it contains trans fats. Manufacturers are now required to list trans fat content on food labels. The same problem exists with trans fats as with saturated fats — they’re artery cloggers.

You need to check the labels carefully for these. The requirement to list trans fats is in force if it has over .5 grams of trans fats. Some have circumvented this issue by simply lowering the serving size so that a serving falls below this number.

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