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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Truth About Fats: Healthy Fats and Harmful Fats

Are Fats Unhealthy?

Our total fat intake should be between 20% - 35% of our total caloric intake. How many of us are actually practicing that? Our bodies need certain types of fats in order to function effectively. Our bodies need the unsaturated fats (good fats).

Unsaturated fats aid in the absorption of certain vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, along with carotenoids. Healthy fats are also a major source of energy. Fats also add flavor to the foods we eat. Adding healthy fats to the diet, within moderation, plays an important role in our overall health.

Fats that Heal: Unsaturated Fats - The Good Fats

Unsaturated fats are the good fats. They don’t raise our cholesterol levels. To maintain good health we should consume more unsaturated fats and less saturated fat. Why is that? Unsaturated fats provide our bodies with the essential fats that our bodies need for healthy cell development. The Omega 3s and Omega 6s, which are found in the good fats, are critical for the normal growth and development of our bodies. They are also needed for brain function. Unsaturated fats work by lowering our overall cholesterol, including our low-density protein (LDL) cholesterol.

Monounsaturated Fats

The majority of the fats we consume should come from monounsaturated fats. According, to research conducted by the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats are heart healthy. They can lower the risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are considered to be the healthiest of the saturated fats. If we consume monounsaturated fats we will increase our high density lipoprotein (HDL) (also known as the good cholesterol). Monounsaturated fats remain a liquid at room temperature, but they can become a solid if put into a refrigerator. A few sources of monounsaturated fats are canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil. Other food sources that contain a high amount of monounsaturated fat are avocados and most nuts.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats can also aid in lowering our LDL. Polyunsaturated fats will usually remain liquids at room temperature or when placed in the refrigerator. Vegetable oils such as cottonseed, corn, safflower, sunflower, and soy oil are all polyunsaturated fats.

Fats that Harm: Saturated Fats - The Bad Fats

Saturated fats are the main culprits of high blood cholesterol. Low-density protein (LDL) causes fatty buildup in the arteries. The cholesterol deposits place a lot of demand on our heart and circulatory system, making it harder for the blood to flow through the body. A high level of LDL in the blood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Saturated fats can be found in animal foods and in certain plant foods. A few examples of animal fat are butter, beef, dairy products, eggs, cheese, lamb, milk, pork, poultry fat, and veal. Saturated fats can also be found in some vegetable fats like cocoa butter, coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Hydrogenation

When foods are processed, the fats sometimes go through a procedure referred to as hydrogenation. Hydrogenated fats are commonly used in baked goods like cookies, cakes, most breads, and fried foods. Hydrogenated fats remain solid or semi-solid at room temperature. You can usually find them in vegetable shortenings and margarine. Hydrogenation occurs when the manufacturer adds hydrogen to a vegetable oil. This process increases the shelf life of foods containing hydrogenated fats, along with the flavor of the product, but at what cost?

Trans Fats

Trans fats raise our LDL and are very unhealthy. They also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. When we add trans fats to healthy foods like steamed vegetables and baked potatoes, they become unhealthy. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals over two years of age should limit the intake of trans fat to less than 1% of their total calories.

Make Healthy Choices: Choose Healthy Fats

Our bodies need fat to function. It’s important to greatly reduce our consumption of saturated fats. If we consume too much, we face a higher risk of developing a disease. It’s important that we choose unsaturated fats, especially the monounsaturated fats. If you aren’t doing this already, get into the habit of reading the labels on food packaging. You want to ensure that you are choosing the right types of fats.

If you are consuming too much fat, reduce your intake. In addition to monitoring your fat intake, be sure you add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet and engage in some type of physical activity.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is for informational purposes and is not medical advice. Individuals wishing to use supplements or alternative medicine therapies should consult with their doctor beforehand.

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