Health and Wellness: Fats

Blog 8.3 Fats:

Comic created by Will McPhail, New Yorker
Fats, one of the three essential nutrient for our body, is no less crucial for optimal health than protein or carbohydrates. Fat is an energy source for the body like the other macronutrients. Moreover, fat is essential for production of hormones, optimal nerve function, cellular integrity, energy storage and absorption of fat soluble vitamins and many other vital functions in our body.

Fats are typically divided into 3 types: mono/polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are found exclusively in plants. Saturated fats primarily come from animal products, although coconut, coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fats. About 1-5% of the fat in animal products(dairy, poultry, and meat) are in the form of trans fats. Trans fats can also be manufactured by hydrogenation of liquid oils. Historically, 20% of trans fats in the American diet came from consumption of animal foods and approximately 80% from products made with hydrogenated oils,  such as commercially baked goods and similar processed foods. But, with the increasing awareness of harmful effects of trans fats, it is being used less often in the processed foods.
So what’s so bad about trans fats? Trans fats raise bad cholesterol LDL, lower good cholesterol, HDL. They contribute to insulin insensitivity which leads to Diabetes. They cause inflammation which is linked to heart disease, stroke, Diabetes and several other chronic conditions.
The only safe amount of trans fats in the diet as per the National Academy of Sciences(NAS) is ZERO.

Saturated fats, though not as harmful as trans fats, are nevertheless harmful. They raise serum cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. A few recent studies have questioned the link between saturated fat and heart disease. Although at this point, it is difficult to definitively conclude that saturated fats cause heart disease, it is amply clear from the available evidence that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats reduces the risk of heart disease. Eating good fats(monounsaturated) fats instead of saturated fats reduces insulin resistance and our risk for diabetes. Furthermore, saturated fats are linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. The major sources of saturated fats in the American diet are pizza, dairy, meat products, cookies and other desserts.
The best fats which are health promoting as opposed to disease promoting are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Consumption of these healthy fats reduces our risk for heart disease, reduces our risk for diabetes, and can lower blood pressure. These fats are exclusively found in the plant kingdom. So enjoy, the avocados, sunflower and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, edamame and tofu, and olives.

As seen in the last 3 blogs, fats, carbohydrates and protein are all crucial macronutrients and are an essential part of our diet. And with all macronutrients, it is the type and the source that determines whether they are beneficial or detrimental to our health. So for optimal health, avoid fats, protein and carbs from animal sources and avoid processed foods from plant and animal sources. As much as possible, consume food in its whole unadulterated form, just as nature intended.

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