Nutrition: Facts About Fats

Fats. Foods have them. We eat them. In fact, my family loves them. Dh is threatening to strangle me if I mention one more of his faves that’s full of trans fats. So beware, dear reader. You probably know all this anyway; I did at some point in time. I needed a refresher course, maybe you do too.

The fats in the foods we eat either tend to accumulate in our body’s fat stores or get burned for fuel. That’s bad fats and good fats for you, in a nutshell. So what makes them different? What makes certain ones necessary in moderation?

BAD FATS

Bad fats~in cheeses, red meats, fried and processed foods, and the most harmful of the bad fats: trans fatty acids, aka, trans fats or saturated fats. Why are they bad? They’re the culprits that raise the bad cholesterol (LDL), contribute to obesity, and as a result, render their victim a whopping candidate for heart disease.

Plus, bad fats are usually high in sugar. Ice cream, pastries, chocolate, uh-huh. Calories consumed from these foods are more likely to go straight to fat stores rather than burned for energy. Watch out for:

  • Chips and dips. Especially avoid the deep-fried kind and instead have fat-free tortilla chips or pita chips.
  • Sandwiches. Skip the white breads and have 100% unrefined whole grain bread. Stick to lean deli meats (turkey) and no mayonnaise.
  • High-fat dairy foods~instead of whole milk go with skim, same with cheeses, yogurts, cream substitutes, and solid white shortening.
  • Practically all animal fats are trans fats/saturated fats.
  • Some dietary supplements contain trans fats. Check the labeling.

That bears repeating. Read labels. As of last January 1, 2006, companies were required by the FDA to list the trans fats in their products.

At the American Heart Association website, I found the following:

“Trans fat is formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a chemical process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen is added to make the oils more solid. These hydrogenated fats are used by food processors because they allow longer shelf-life, and give food desirable taste, shape and texture.

And that solidness goes straight to your arteries. My aunt takes part in a “Strategies for Diabetics” class at her local hospital. One of the things she recently wrote me, that was covered in a session on “fats” was this:

“Trans fat is comparable to Crisco. It hardens, stays put and doesn’t need refrigeration. In our veins. You may not notice or feel you have a problem till years later.”

GOOD FATS

Onto the good fats: the unsaturated fats or unsaturated fatty acids. The human body can reproduce all but two of  the many unsaturated fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) and linolenic acid (omega-6 fatty acid). Because our bodies can’t produce these fatty acids, they’re called essential fatty acids (EFAs). We have to rely on our diet to provide these essentials.

EFAs are important in terms of energy and blood sugar levels. The omega-3 fatty acids, especially, are a huge contributor to the fat burning process.

The problem with EFAs, is that they’re fragile from a chemical perspective. Processing and storage reduce their effectiveness.

Here are some food sources of EFAs and tips:

  • Eat wild salmon or another type of fatty fish at least twice a week. Salmon along with mackerel, trout, and sardines are among the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. (Direct quote from Flip the Switch by Robert K. Cooper, PhD, page 235)

In the same breath, I’d warn you to research these fish as to their mercury levels. Pregnant and lactating women, women of child-bearing age, and young children are warned against eating them.

(Okay back to the list!)

  • Prepare foods with a mono-unsaturated fat like olive, safflower, sunflower, corn, or canola oil (I haven’t used vegetable oil in years, finally, something I’m doing right!)
  • Fish oil, linseed oil, parilla oil. I know very little about these, only that they’re available in supplement form and that you can get too much of them, so be careful.
  • Avacados in moderation (because though they are a good fat, they are still a fat!)
  • Walnuts, almonds, pecans or hazelnuts–again, in moderation.
  • Sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
  • Wheat germ
  • Leafy vegetables
  • Lean meats: Poultry without skin, not fried. Lean beef and pork with visible fat trimmed.
  • Wild game meat. Animals that forage for food, or are farm fed, are rich in EPAs. Grain fed cattle, for instance, aren’t. (running from dh!)

In my search, it was hard to pinpoint an exact dietary suggestion of how many omega-3 fatty acids we should include in our daily diet. Most sources said EPAs should make up at least 1% of our daily caloric allowance. So if you consume 2,500 calories a day, that would translate to 5-7.5 grams of EPAs per day. It seems to be up for debate whether more would be harmful or helpful.

When you research it a bit deeper, you find that EPA is actually the lesser benefit derived from the omega-3 fatty acids. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is also found in omega-3’s, and is necessary for the structure of cell membranes.

But this is where I end my research, dear ones. At least for this day.

One thought on “Nutrition: Facts About Fats”

  1. My baby just deleted my comment. Sheesh. Anyway, great job on the research, and I appreciate your sharing it. I never can keep the fats straight. I had no idea that corn oil was preferrable to vegetable oil. Oops. BTW, McDonald’s is working on taking out the trans fats–good news for junkies like me :-)

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