Not all fats are created equal and not knowing the difference can take a significant toll on your health. Eliminating all forms of fat from your diet is not only difficult, but in fact unhealthy. Fats are used as major energy sources for your body, insulation for internal organs and covering our nervous system. In addition, fat assists in your system’s absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K – essential for eyesight, strong bones and teeth, fighting toxins and blood flow. Fat becomes a detriment to your healthy lifestyle when you consume more calories than you use, throwing your body’s levels out of balance.
When you look at a nutrition label, fats are typically listed under calories. The first, saturated and trans fats are considered unhealthy fat sources and raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. Saturated fat, sometimes referred to as “solid” fat, can be seen floating in food that is room temperature or cooler, but is often more difficult to spot. High consumption of saturated fats is linked to the development of chronic disease, specifically heart disease. It is commonly found in the following foods:
• High-fat cheese
• High-fat cuts of meat
• Whole fat milk and cream
• Ice cream
Although coconut oil contains about 90 percent saturated fat, it is partially comprised of lauric acid, which increases levels of HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and bad cholesterol in the blood without negatively affecting the overall ratio of the two. Partially hydrogenated coconut oil, however, can raise your LDL cholesterol without the same boost your HDL levels.
The phrase “partially hydrogenated” should be a red flag when skimming a nutrition label as it usually means the food contains harmful trans fats. They are typically listed under the saturated fat levels, are naturally formed and consumed by humans through animal products. They can also be formed when food is processed and hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. The resulting product, partially hydrogenated oils, are used to improve the texture, shelf life and flavor stability of foods, and can wreak havoc on your LDL cholesterol levels. Trans fats are found in many of the same products as saturated fats, as well as:
• Baked goods
• Snack foods
• Fried foods
• Vegetable shortening
The negative effects of trans fat are another in a long list of reasons to avoid processed foods and opt for fresh, whole foods and lean cuts of protein. Cooking with olive oil, instead of butter, margarine or shortening can make a significant difference in your healthy lifestyle. In addition, olive oil, along with refined avocado oil, is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, one of the better fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat improve blood cholesterol levels. Plant-based foods and oils are the primary sources of both healthier fats. Omega-3 fatty acids – another source of polyunsaturated fat – are found to be particularly beneficial to your heart and can be found in walnut oil (for cooking) or flax seeds and in certain fish, such as salmon. The fish sources of omega-3 are a much healthier source for humans than the plant sources. This topic is so important that you may expect more on omega-3 and omega-6 in a future post.
Incorporating these healthier fats into your diet and eliminating processed foods when possible will help your body process fats in a healthier fashion in absence of excess carbohydrates. Before undertaking major changes to your diet, make sure to consult with your physician to create a healthy eating plan. PPMA also offers the services of Stephanie Lapinski for additional nutrition support.
Photo credit: Flickr user Phú Thịnh Co. Used with permission through Creative Commons.