27 December 2007

Fats: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly as well as Potentially Life Threatening:

First let me enlighten those who are innocent, of the four major types of fats:

1) Trans Fats

2) Saturated Fats

3) Polyunsaturated fats

4) Monounsaturated fats

As a simple rule of thumb, don’t eat excessive amounts of fat, keep it moderate and make sure to eat most of your fat from the last two forms of fats (the Unsaturated groups), less from the saturated fats, and steer well clear of Trans fats. Believe it or not the type of fat does make a difference. An interesting calorie controlled study on monkeys showed that a group eating the same diet but with their fat coming from Trans Fats gained more fat than the control group eating unsaturated fats and that the trans fat group also gained more fat around the abdominal area (which is associated with an increased chance of heart disease).

Here are a couple of extracts from: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn9318

“Monkeys fed a diet rich in trans-fats – commonly found in fast foods – grew bigger bellies than those fed a diet rich in unsaturated fats, but containing the same overall number of calories. They also developed signs of insulin resistance, which is an early indicator of diabetes.”

“After six years on the diet, the trans-fat-fed monkeys had gained 7.2% of their body weight, compared to just 1.8% in the unsaturated group. CT scans also revealed that the trans-fat monkeys carried 30% more abdominal fat, which is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.”

Fat has gotten a pretty negative wrap from nutritionists up until quite recently. However it is important to realise that fat is a very important nutrient in itself. It is used to make cell membranes and also plays an important role in the uptake of several vitamins. Fat also helps keep your hair and skin healthy.

However as emphasised before it is the quality of the fat we ingest which is of importance. As http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats.html puts it:

“Detailed research -much of it done at Harvard - shows that the total amount of fat in the diet, whether high or low, isn't really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat in the diet.”

As common sense would dictate a diet of mostly fruit, vegetables, nuts and minimal grain products (which should when consumed be wholegrain) will provide us with a very healthy diet. In such a natural diet there are indeed sources of fat such as nuts, avocadoes and olives. The best meat source for these healthy fats is fish, and these provide the extra benefit of omega 3 fatty acids, which I have blogged about here:!!!

For those of you fortunate enough to live in Australia then I suggest you try Kangaroo, a rather healthy tasty meat. It is very lean and contains little fat, and of the fat it does contain the greater proportion is from the unsaturated categories rather than saturated fat! So if you can get it, and you don’t mind its gamey flavour, go for Kangaroo!

While the unsaturated fats lower our “bad” cholesterol and increase the “good” cholesterol, saturated fat simply increases the “bad” cholestrol. Of course limited amounts are unavoidable and they are chiefly present in meats (particularly less lean meats like lamb), dairy products, as well as cocoa and coconut. Saturated fats are somewhat worse for us, and have a tendency to increase our “bad” cholesterol. However Trans fats, a form of man made fats, created through a process known as hydrogenation and notably present only in man made foods are best completely avoided.

Again I quote from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats.html:

“The Nurses' Health Study found that replacing only 30 calories (7 grams) of carbohydrates every day with 30 calories (4 grams) of trans fats nearly doubled the risk for heart disease. (9) Saturated fats increased risk as well, but not nearly as much.”

Let me just add that 30 calories is not much at all! Its only 4 grams of the stuff! Yet that amount daily can “nearly double the risk for heart disease”, I mean think about it for a minute… only 4 grams!

“For the good fats, there is consistent evidence that high intake of either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat lowers the risk for heart disease. In the Nurses' Health Study, replacing 80 calories of carbohydrates with 80 calories of either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats lowered the risk for heart disease by about 30 to 40 percent.(8)”

So the easiest way to implement a healthy diet is simply to avoid processed foods (easier to say than it sounds!) or at very least cut back on them drastically, and stick to what are commonly called “whole” foods. This is to say foods that are unprocessed, and are eaten in a very close manner to how they naturally develop. In the case of fats this means avoid using too much oil and eating too much in the way of dairy, as well as sticking to leaner meats. To be honest I believe that slowly implementing these changes in your life will work best. I advocate a slow approach to change, one that is manageable, instead of the traditional sudden leap which will normally always fail after the initial motivation has passed.

So there you have it. Fats in a nutshell! And remember nuts are a good source of the “good” fats, as well as having smaller amounts of saturated fats in them! J - How’s that for applied knowledge eh? Now when I say fats in a nutshell I lie, as to be honest I have not really touched on some areas, most importantly of which is Omega-3. But fear not, for here is a link which shall explain just that to you: "Omega-3: Something smells fishy, what’s all the hype about?”

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