The good and the bad — finding a balance
Published 11:58 am Saturday, March 12, 2016
By Rachel Breneman
The topic of dietary fats can be confusing, especially with conflicting headlines about dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Fats are necessary in your diet to help you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. They are involved in satiety, mental health and cell wall stability, and they help you form hormones. Picking healthier fats most of the time can help reduce risk of chronic disease and nourish your body and mind — literally.
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Saturated fats come from animal sources (meat, poultry, eggs, butter and milk products) with the exception of two plant sources: palm and coconut oils. Saturated fats may have a neutral effect on HDL, or good cholesterol, but do seem to raise LDL or bad cholesterol. This can increase your risk of heart disease, especially if you are not engaging in other lifestyle factors that reduce your risk, such as exercising, keeping stress under control and maintaining a healthy weight.
Originally added to foods to keep them very shelf stable, trans fats are a double whammy because they increase LDL and decrease HDL. You’ll find them in microwave popcorn, doughnuts, cookies, cake mixes, frostings, potato chips, margarines and shortenings. Before buying any packaged food, check the ingredient list for the word “hydrogenated.” This indicates there is trans fat in the product, even if the nutrient facts panel states “0 grams.” Labeling laws permit rounding down if there is less than half a gram per serving. In light of how detrimental artificial trans fats are for us, the FDA is actually enforcing a phase-out of using trans fats in foods.
Polyunsaturated fats are the omega fats. These can improve cholesterol levels, keep inflammation at bay, help cell development and keep the immune system healthy. There are two types: omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 fats lower LDL and raise HDL. Aim for two servings of fatty fish per week: salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, mackerel or herring. Plant sources like flax, chia and walnuts provide the precursor to omega-3, called ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid. The conversion from ALA to omega-3 is only about 35 percent. Too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids can lead to inflammation, so keep your intake balanced. Omega-6 fatty acid sources include nuts, eggs, dairy and oils such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower.
Monounsaturated fats can also lower LDL cholesterol. They help cell development and keep your nerves and immune system healthy. Sources include olive oil, peanuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, avocado and pistachios.
Keep fat portions to a thumb-sized amount with each meal unless the meal itself is prepared with lots of fat. If it has been awhile since you’ve checked your cholesterol, contact me for a screening. In about 15 minutes, you’ll know cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar with a fasting finger-stick test. Call or email for an appointment at email@example.com or 507-377-2257.
The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.