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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fat, a necessary nutrient, Part II

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As mentioned in last weeks post, fat is the most maligned of all macro nutrients, carbohydrates being a recent and very close second. The common misconception is that dietary fat leads to more body fat. That is not directly the case. Excess calories, whether from carbohydrates, protein, or fat lead to excess body fat. Since, we need fat in our diets, we should make an effort to consume mostly "good" fats.

Good Fats

Good fats fall into the category of unsaturated fats. Chemically they are more complex than saturated fats and tend to have a "bent" molecular structure. This type of structure causes unsaturated fats to be liquid at room temperature. The two types of unsaturated fats are monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats. The difference lies in the number and location of double bonds between carbon atoms, but honestly, who really cares about all of that. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them to replace saturated and trans fats in your diet.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fats are healthy oils, such as olive oil, that have been linked with a low incidence on cardiovascular disease in people who consume a Mediterranean diet. These types of fats have a tendency to lower LDL cholesterol, without effecting HDL cholesterol blood levels.

Polyunsaturated Fat

Polyunsaturated fats are oils that have a tendency to lower both LDL and HDL cholesterol blood levels. They are healty oils, but some research suggests that our modern diets contain too high a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. The focus of good fat consumption should be on monunsaturated fats and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. As a side note, some polyunsaturated fats are more likely to create trans fats when used with high heat cooking methods. Avoid the use of corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. Better choices are canola oil or olive oil.

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are a subtype of polyunsaturated fat distinguished from Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats by the location of the double bonds in the molecule. Again who really cares. What you should care about is the research that suggests that these fats can significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular heart disease and offer many other health benefits.

Which foods contain good fats?

No food only contains a single type of fat, so these foods actually contain a high percentage of the respective type of fat with other assorted fatty acids making up the difference. Here are some good sources of each type of fat:

Monounsatured:

  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Avocados
Polyunsaturated:
  • Safflower oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
Omega-3:
  • Fish (the greatest health benefits come from the omega-3 fats found in fish)
  • Nuts
  • Flax seeds
Do your best to include as many sources of good fat in your diet, but remember that just because they are healthier doesn't mean you can discount the number of calories contained in fat. You still need to make sure that you aren't consuming more that the recommended 25-35% of your daily calories from fat sources and, if weight loss is a goal, you must continue to consume fewer calories than you burn each day.

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3 comments:

Duane said...

It's actually harder for the body to turn fat into stored fat than it is carbohydrate. The main form of fat in the body is what is called a trigylceride, and by definition, it's three sugar molecules.

Duane said...

Good article on the fats. One comment - be careful when you looks with oils that are primarily "good" fats, as some of them will form trans fats at low temperatures. Just do a google and you should be able to find out which ones are better than others.

Fit Club Scott said...

Duane,

You are right about cooking with some of the polyunsatured oils. Overheating can created trans fats. The easiest way to know which ones are most likely to do this is that they go rancid easily and most need to be refrigerated, i.e. flax oil, nut oils, etc.

Thanks for the comment.