Saturday, April 16, 2011

FATS: Questioning The Standard American Low-Fat Diet Craze

Since the late 1980's the FDA has advised American consumers to avoid diets rich in saturated fats with claims that high fat diets are the leading cause of heart disease, cancers and obesity. With that claim an entire marketing campaign for low-fat and fat-free options bombarding our local grocery aisles. It was simple enough reasoning really, when you eat fat you get fat, so FAT must be avoided at all cost. But what the FDA conveniently forgot to mention is that not ALL FATS are created equal. They unfortunately didn't give you enough information about their new fat-free diet plan, or mention that often times following an exclusive fat-free diet can cause you more harm then good. Fats come in many forms, and to spare you all the molecular chemistry breakdown lets give you some FAST FAT FACTS:

1.Saturated Fats: Stable molecular structures. Remain stabilized at high heat( they don't burn easlily). Are most commonly found in animal products (meats)and tropical oils. Although the standard American diet has told you to limit or to stay away from saturated fats, here is an excerpt from Mary Enig's article, The Truth About Saturated Fats:

The benefits of saturated fats

The much-maligned saturated fats—which Americans are trying to avoid—are not the cause of our modern diseases. In fact, they play many important roles in the body chemistry:

  1. Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what gives our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
  2. They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.
  3. They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease.They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.
  4. They enhance the immune system.
  5. They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids.
  6. Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.
  7. Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated.The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.
  8. Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

The scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, does not support the assertion that "artery-clogging" saturated fats cause heart disease. Actually, evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals that only about 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.

2. Monounsaturated Fats: Moderately stable molecularly. These liquefy at room temperature. Most commonly found in olive oils, avocados and nuts. This kind of fat has been known to stabilize blood sugar and prevent heart disease.

3. Polyunsaturated Fats: Polyunsaturated fats are molecularly unstable ( the burn fairly easily). These fats remain in liquid form. They do not hold up high heat. They are commonly found in fish and plant based oils. These fats help with heart, eye and brain function and health.
Trans Fats: These are commonly polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically altered through a process of heating the molecules in a process called hydrogenation. This is most commonly our 'go to' sunflower, corn or Canola oil that are the choice of many Americans who love to cook and bake them without worrying about burning their culinary masterpiece. The problem with TransFats is that they are foreign free roaming radicals that wreak havoc on your body causing a spike in bad cholesterol (LDL) leading to heart disease, overburdening your liver and being directly stored as fat around your organs.

In an ecxcert from Mary Enig's article, The Truth About Saturated Fats regarding Polyunsatrated Fats:

The public has been fed a great deal of misinformation about the relative virtues of saturated fats versus polyunsaturated oils. Politically correct dietary gurus tell us that the polyunsaturated oils are good for us and that the saturated fats cause cancer and heart disease. The result is that fundamental changes have occurred in the Western diet. At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallows, coconut oil and small amounts of olive oil. Today most of the fats in the diet are polyunsaturated from vegetable oils derived mostly from soy, as well as from corn, safflower and canola.

Modern diets can contain as much as 30% of calories as polyunsaturated oils, but scientific research indicates that this amount is far too high. The best evidence indicates that our intake of polyunsaturates should not be much greater than 4% of the caloric total, in approximate proportions of 1 1/2 % omega-3 linolenic acid and 2 1/2 % omega-6 linoleic acid.EFA consumption in this range is found in native populations in temperate and tropical regions whose intake of polyunsaturated oils comes from the small amounts found in legumes, grains, nuts, green vegetables, fish, olive oil and animal fats but not from commercial vegetable oils.

Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease; immune system dysfunction; damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs; digestive disorders; depressed learning ability; impaired growth; and weight gain.

One reason the polyunsaturates cause so many health problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture as in cooking and processing. Rancid oils are characterized by free radicals—that is, single atoms or clusters with an unpaired electron in an outer orbit. These compounds are extremely reactive chemically. They have been characterized as "marauders" in the body for they attack cell membranes and red blood cells and cause damage in DNA/RNA strands, thus triggering mutations in tissue, blood vessels and skin. Free radical damage to the skin causes wrinkles and premature aging; free radical damage to the tissues and organs sets the stage for tumors; free radical damage in the blood vessels initiates the buildup of plaque. Is it any wonder that tests and studies have repeatedly shown a high correlation between cancer and heart disease with the consumption of polyunsaturates?New evidence links exposure to free radicals with premature aging, with autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and with Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer's and cataracts.

The bottomline is that you NEED FAT in your diet. About 30% of your daily calorie consumption should be comprised of fats. Being a smart consumer and knowing that not all fats are created equal is key. Acknowledge the difference between a avocado and a Cheeto, or a piece of wild salmon and a can of Cheese Whiz. Steer clear of all Trans Fats. Also keep in mind that if you choose to continue to reach for those fat-free foods that not everything is as it appears. Often times when food producers are creating the next fat-free food, they may be removing the fat, but they also remove the flavor.So what do they do to compensate for this?How do they get consumers like you and me to buy into the fat-free market? They add more SALT AND SUGAR to their fat-free items to mask the lack of flavor so that we will still buy it. THAT sounds CRAZY but it is TRUE!!
You are now informed to make better decisions on WHAT fats you eat. Fats are not the devil, they are necessary for cellular growth and maintenance in you body. Making sure you are eating the RIGHT kind of fats is key!

Cheers to knowledge and your health!

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