It Does Your Body Good -- By: Denis Faye
It Does Your Body Good
How Much, What Kind, and Which Ones Should You Avoid?
Denis Faye breaks it down
the good old days, it seemed like all you needed to know about fat was that
fat makes you fat, so eat less fat. That was about it.
But then you started
to read more, to keep abreast of health trends. Terms popped up like trans fat,
saturated fat, omega-3s and cholesterol. Now, one day the headlines say fat
is a killer, but the next day, they insist it is crucial to human existence.
What's a healthy eater to do?
Happily, it's not
as confusing as it seems. Fat is a vital part of all diets that, like anything
else, needs to be consumed in moderation. So let's break it down a little, learn
a few needlessly big words, and take a crack at understanding fat.
The good side
of fat: Like
carbohydrates, fat is fuel for the body, especially useful for long-term aerobic
exercise. It helps with the digestion of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
and it promotes a feeling of fullness after eating.
It plays an important
part in the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that regulate
blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting and the
Fat also provides
essential fatty acids, in particular omega-3, which is found in several fats
and oils, mainly fish, soy and flax seed. The various omega-3 fatty acids help
us with brain development, nervous system function and eyesight. Many experts
also believe they reduce the risk of arthritis, some cancer, high blood pressure,
and heart disease.
The bad side of
fat: But all those benefits don't mean hourly olive oil shooters would be
a good idea. As is the case with proteins and carbs, eating fat requires a little
restraint. About 20-30% of your calories should be from fat, otherwise, you open
yourself up to a world of hurt.
Keeping in mind that a gram of fat is 9 calories, as opposed to 4 calories in a gram of protein or carbohydrates, you should be eating about
half as much. And fatty foods tend to be dense, so a little goes a long way.
Too much fat can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Fat can also, well, make
you fat. This, in turn, can lead to various complications including liver disease
And then there's the matter of cholesterol: Often vilified, cholesterol is actually important to the human body. It's important
in the creation and maintenance of cell membranes, the creation of sex hormones,
the production of bile salts and, combined with sunlight, it creates vitamin
But before considering butter as a health food, remember that
our body creates all the cholesterol it needs. So eating a lot of it only clogs
in your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack.
Cholesterol is transported through your system by proteins called
apoproteins. Combined, cholesterol and apoproteins are called lipoproteins.
Lipoproteins that are low in cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
are often referred to as "bad cholesterol" because they clog up your
arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are believed to clean LDLs out of
your arteries and are therefore referred to as "good cholesterol."
So the trick is to keep the LDLs to a minimum. We do this by
keeping an eye on the fats we eat.
Types of fat
Monounsaturated Fat -- are about as good as it gets. Full of
HDLs, they can actually help prevent heart disease by flushing out your system.
Monounsaturated fats are also more resistant to oxidation, something that leads
to cell and tissue damage.
You'll find monounsaturated fats in olives and olive oils, peanuts, canola
oil, avocados and many nuts.
Polyunsaturated Fat -- here's where you find your omega-3s
with all their aforementioned benefits. They're also packed with HDLs, although
they are more prone to oxidation, or the breaking down of cells. Many vegetable
oils, including safflower, sunflower and soy, are polyunsaturated. As previously
mentioned, fish are a good source, too. But be careful, some seafood, particularly
shrimp, is loaded with cholesterol -- not fat, but pure cholesterol, which isn't
generally a good idea.
Saturated Fat -- now we're dipping into "bad" fat
territory. For the most part, these fats are loaded with LDLs, meaning too much
of the stuff will send your cholesterol levels soaring. You'll find plenty of
saturated fat in red meat, poultry (especially dark meat), whole dairy products
and tropic oils such as coconut oil.
Trans Fat -- the new kid on the block. Processed food manufacturers
discovered that if you hydrogenate polyunsaturated vegetable oils, they'd become
more solid and spoil later. Today, they are used in most commercial baked goods
-- cookies, crackers, donuts, pie, cake, as well as shortenings, candy, and
many margarines. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that trans fats are
just as bad for you as saturated fats, if not worse. They raise your cholesterol
levels and one study actually shows that they lower your omega-3 levels.
In July of this year, the FDA issued a regulation that manufacturers must list
trans fats on their nutritional labels by 2006. Some manufacturers have already
Most of the packaged foods we eat contain more than one type of fat. That's
why reading these labels is so important, so do it! Keep your saturated and
trans fats down. Sure, it's a little complicated at times, but keep an eye on
them now and soon you'll find yourself not-so-fat, but definitely happy!