Saturday, May 21, 2011

Good Fat, Bad Fat

Good Fat, Bad Fat
Sarah Reid, RHNC

The word “fat” has long been the unofficial “swear word” of the weight-management sector. Butter, bacon, nuts and cheese are all laden with the stuff – and if we don’t want to be labelled with the awful “extra large body proportions” stigma, we must eschew it all from our menus, right?

At least, that was the thinking during one of the varied “cycles” of quick-fix dieting in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Now, most of us understand and agree that there are different types of this molecule – each behaving in different ways. Fat is a macronutrient, and vital to our body’s proper function. It keeps our cell membranes intact, helps bile form to trap toxins in our gut and even forms the basis of most of our hormones. Who’d have thought that a lack of libido could be the result of trying to look slim and sexy?

The types of fat are commonly divided into two categories based on their impact on cholesterol levels. The “bad” fats are the saturated and trans-fatty acids, which are solid at room temperature and have a tendency to thicken the blood. In fact, their effects can be so powerful that the blood taken from a patient who had eaten a fast-food meal (full of these compounds) 1 hour before solidified in the vial. Saturated fat is what most of us are familiar with in foods like butter and lard, and is also common in coconut oil, nuts, and meat. Saturated fat has been linked to higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and risk of type 2 diabetes. Most trans-fats are from partially hydrogenated sources, meaning a liquid oil is saturated with hydrogen under high pressure to have an end result that is solid at room temperature. They have been shown to increase LDL while reducing the “good” HDL cholesterol, and have been linked to cancer, depression and liver disease. Labels are allowed to claim a product is “trans fat free” if it has under 0.5g of trans fat per serving – but watch the serving sizes too, because many of the new label claims also come with a smaller portion too!

 The “good” fats are unsaturated – liquid at room temperature and commonly referred to as “oil” instead of “fat”. This category also includes the omega-3 (Ω-3) and omega-6 (Ω-6) fatty acids, also called the essential fatty acids because our bodies don't make them -- we have to get them from food. Polyunsaturated fatty acids(or PUFAs) decrease the risk of developing ALS (or Lou Gehrig's Disease) The EFAs in PUFAs also decrease the risk of depression, high blood pressure, and even have a link to lowering ADHD symptoms. You can find polyunsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil, and fatty fish. Foods containing monounsaturated fats (such as meat, milk products, nuts, olives and avocadoes) reduce LDL cholesterol, but carry a higher risk of oxidizing into free radicals, so should be eaten in moderation.

When it comes to the weight loss war, it’s important to remember that fat of any kind contains 9 calories per gram. While it is important for our bodies – and should make up about 20% of our total daily calories – going hog-wild with the butter knife and having the extra cheesy pizza will not give your body the total support it needs. Choose your sources judiciously and enjoy every bite!

Sarah Reid is a Holistic Nutritional Consultant with her company NEW-trition