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Do You Know Your Fat Facts?

by Jeanne Rhodes

This week a series of questions and answers will help clarify some vital and very useful information about dietary fat.

Q) There are several different kinds of fats - which should we be aware of?

A) Saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

Q) Which of these is the most damaging to health?

A) Trans fat, followed by saturated fat. A large study found that trans fat, a primary ingredient of margarines and shortening is especially unhealthy. Walter Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health states that although unknown to most consumers, trans fat appears to be the worst fat. The biggest sources are hidden - cookies, crackers and commercial baked goods as well as french fries and other deep-fried foods. Be aware that “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil on food labels means trans fat.

Trans fat raises the “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowers the “good” HDL. Saturated fat is unhealthy but is not quite as bad as trans - it raises both HDL and LDL cholesterol.

Q) How can you visually identify a saturated fat?

A) It will be solid or semi-solid at room temperature - butter, lard, fat on meats, etc.

Q) Which of the fats are healthier choices?

A) Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated because they are both good for the heart as well as many other organs and body functions. Monounsaturated oils, especially olive and canola raise “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol. In addition, monounsaturated oils are excellent for increasing essential fatty acids specifically the omega 3’s, which are inadequate in today’s American diet.

Q) Is trans fat listed on food labels?

A) Currently, trans fat is not required to be listed on food labels. You can estimate trans fat by looking at total fat grams and then subtract the listed grams of saturated fat and unsaturated fat from this total. Also, look at the ingredients listed. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Q) Do we need to eat fat in order to lose fat?

A) Yes! Increasing omega 3 essential fatty acids to a healthy balance will in turn allow a healthy balance of eicosanoids - the body’s superhormones. Eicosanoids are made by every cell of the body and have been referred to as the “molecular glue” that holds the human body together. In 1982 the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for eicosanoid research. Almost every disease state from heart disease and cancer to obesity can be viewed as an imbalance of eicosanoids. Eicosanoid balance depends on a healthy omega 6 to omega 3 balance of 1:1 to 4:1 in the diet. Currently, the American diet is too high in omega 6’s with an omega 6 to omega 3 balance of 20:1. Substituting omega 3 choices (olive & canola oils, fish, veggies, etc.) for some of the omega 6 choices (processed and fried foods, red meat, etc.) will help balance essential fatty acids which will then balance eicosanoids - essential to life itself as well as weight loss.

Q) Will a blood test let me know if my eicosanoids are balanced?

A) No, they are not found in the blood, which explains why it took science so long to identify them and begin to understand their functions.

Q) Are there research studies to verify the tremendous impact omega’3 have on health?

A) Yes, probably hundreds of studies by now. Here are a few:

* 324 women who increased omega 3’s (salmon, etc.) eliminated their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (Epidemiology May ’96)

* Supplements of omega 3’s lengthened remissions for 23 patients with Crohn’s disease (New England Journal of Medicine 6/13/96)

* Menstrual cramps were reduced with fish oil supplements (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, April ’96)

* Children with an increased omega 3 rich fish diet were 25% less likely to have asthma than those who did not eat the fish (Medical Journal of Australia 2/5/96)

* 295 men with an increased omega 3 (fish) diet had half the risk of heart failure (Journal of American Medical Assoc. 11/1/95)

* 883 men who’d had heart attacks had 29% less chance of death with low fat diet and increased omega 3’s (fish) (Lancet 9/30/89)

* Lyon Diet Heart Study - 76% lower incidence of second heart attack, heart failure, stroke and death in heart attack survivors who were placed on an omega 3 rich diet as compared to the group on the American Heart Association’s “prudent” diet. (The Lancet, 1994)

Q) Won’t eating fatty fish increase calories too high?

A) Optimal health and weight is not a consequence of counting calories. It’s based on the complex hormonal responses that are initiated by the BALANCE of macronutrients you eat which makes food the most powerful drug you will ever ingest. This is yet another reason most diets fail - most conventional weight reduction diets are not in the necessary balance to correct the overweight problem.

Q) Could you clarify what might be the best choices of fats and oils to include to get a healthy Omega 3 to Omega 6 balance?

A) The following is very brief list, but remember that all oils and fats should be used in moderation for health as well as weight loss. A low fat approach with Omega 3 choices replacing some of the Omega 6 choices to provide a healthy balance of these two essential fatty acids will deliver the best results:

* Saturated Fats & Oils

Animal fat
Coconut oil
Palm oil
Cocoa butter
Palm kernel oil
* Omega 3 Oils
Fish oil
Canola oil
Walnut oil
Flaxseed oil
*Olive oil is a monounsaturated oil that increases omega 3 uptake in the body’s cells
* Omega 6 Oils
Corn oil
Sunflower seed oil
Cotton seed oil
Soybean oil
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
Safflower oil
Borage oil

Bottom Line: The best = a half-and-half mixture of Olive and Canola oils for better balance of omega 3’s in the diet. Both oils contain generous amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil is very valuable because of its abundance of antioxidants and squalene which has anti-inflammatory properties, slows blood clot formation, and lowers cholesterol. Olive oil also helps your body absorb the omega 3’s in your diet.

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author, and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.

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