Here’s a fact: Our bodies need fat to function. Fat is necessary for the metabolism of four important vitamins; A, D, E and K as well as playing a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. The problem starts when we eat too much fat or in the case of trans fats, any at all. You see, fat doesn’t make you fat, but coming in at 9 calories per gram it’s twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates. It adds up quick. On the other hand it fills you up quick and keeps you full longer. Which is a good thing if you’re trying to keep from munching between meals.
Trans fats are chemically hydrogenated oils and fats. They are not produced in nature but man made and are found in a large amount of commercially produced foods including prepared foods, baked goods, canned tomatoes (the flavored kind), and a host of innumerable other products. These fats are highly stable which means they have a very long shelf life, which is good for the food manufacturers and super markets but terrible for us as they are so common in the food supply that it is difficult to avoid them. Possible but difficult. I takes a lot of label reading. Here’s an example of how these fats hide and find their way into our diet. Just last night I was making tomato sauce for some baked ziti I was making. I added some tomato paste to the chopped tomatoes and noticed that I had mistakenly picked up “tomato paste with basil”. Well, it wasn’t just basil in there! There was high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil (aka trans fat!!!), and a host of other offensive chemicals and garbage in there. I ate it, not going to throw a pot of sauce out the window but now I’m wiser for the experience. Who would have thought a simple can of tomato paste could have 12 ingredients.
Back to trans fats. They have been found to be much worse for us than the sinister saturated fat. Oh my! The AHA recommends at the very most we can allow 1% of total daily calories in trans fats, with the goal of getting the least possible amount. These must be pretty awful! Numerous studies have shown a link between trans fats and coronary artery disease. They also raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol. Not good folks.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products but also in coconut oil, palm kernel and palm oils. Although saturated fats should be consumed in moderation turns out they aren’t so bad as everyone thought. But that doesn’t make them good, just not as bad as those nasty trans fats. So watch your intake but don’t stress and please don’t substitute vegetable shortening for butter in your pie crust thinking its better. It’s not. Weird but true. Oh, and guess what. Lard is good too! Also not expected right! It has no trans fats and less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter. Most saturated fats also have monounsaturated fats too which are the good fats that aid in removing the sticky stuff from our arteries. It’s a crazy, crazy world.
Poly and mono unsaturated fats are the fats found in oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, flaxseed, avocado, walnut, olive, peanut and soy, which is commonly called vegetable oil). From these fats we derive omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s, as we’ve all heard, are very good for our overall health. They have been linked to lower levels of blood triglycerides which reduces the risk of clogged arteries. Omega-3’s are found most commonly found in cold water fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds. On the other side is Omega-6’s. These are also good for you but in small amounts. Estimates say we generally eat as much as 10 times the amount of Omega-6’s that we should almost entirely through processed food. When Omega-6 is consumed in excess they actually cause health problems like chronic inflammation leading to arthritis and some cancers. Omega-6’s should be consumed in balance with Omega-3’s in a ratio of approximately 3:1. The oil that provided the closest balance in these two oils in olive oil. Canola, palm, sunflower and soybean (aka vegetable) oils have the highest amount of Omega-6. Sorry to say these are the most commonly used commercial oils so if you want to get your oil balance in check watch the ingredient list on the food you buy. As I said earlier, Omega-6 is not bad for you, just like anything else, its excess that’s not so great. I think this is going to be the next big thing people talk about.
Getting these oils in balance is easy. Cut down on processed food and if you don’t eat a diet rich in Omega’3 sources take a high quality supplement. I’ve read a lot of books about nutrition and have found the one that distills this information the best and most easily understood is not even a book about nutrition. It’s a book about exercise called “The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises”. I recommend buying the book, or looking over a copy at your library. First of all its the best book I’ve found illustrating exercises and mapping out workouts but as a bonus I find the information beyond exercise to be as good. Mostly because its short and incredible easy to understand and not to mention spot on.