15 December 2009

The Skinny on Fat, Part I

If I told you that some fats actually burn fat and could increase athletic performance, would you believe me? I know what your thinking. You've been reading the labels of the food that you purchase for years, making sure you were not consuming too much fat—especially saturated fats—which many of us have been led to believe are as lethal as cigarettes and alcohol.

However, the truth is that some types of medium, or short-chain saturated fats that are found in coconut, palm oil, and even butter can actually be beneficial. They have a different absorption mechanism making them perfectly healthy. They are used solely for energy production because they are absorbed directly into the liver instead of taking the cholesterol route. More, they do not directly affect cholesterol levels, and may even aid in athletic performance because of their superior use as energy according to Jill Coleman who wrote the article Fat Science in the Novmber/December 2009
                                                                            issue of OnFitness.

Long-chain saturated fats increase the so called "bad" cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible (sorry bacon and sausages.) I felt guilty for years cooking my "signature" shrimp scampi as I cut a generous portion of butter to be used in the sauce. Look, I have no delusions of my scampi dish passing on a low-fat menu anytime soon, but I am always careful to consider  the proportion of fats to carbohydrates when I am preparing the dish. Another type of fat that should be avoided like the plague are Trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil. Unbeknownst to many consumers, they are widely used in a sleuth of prepackaged foods like chips, crackers, and cookies. The detrimental health effects have recently  spurred a move by the FDA to require food manufacturers to put the trans fat content on food labels. My solution, if I were king for the day—not crazy King George III—would be to eliminate trans fat altogether. Trans fats are modified to remain solid at room temperature increasing their stability and spreadability for use in such products as margarine, shortening, and other vegetable oils. Studies have shown that diets rich in trans fats increase an individuals risk for cardiovascular disease.

Finally, there are unsaturated fats that can be divided further into monosaturated and polyunsaturated  varieties. Foods such as almonds, avocados, olive oil and peanuts contain  monosaturated fats. They effectively lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood making a diet rich in these foods beneficial. Polyunsaturated fats consist of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Since humans do not cannot make these, they can only be obtained through diet. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds and walnuts (and their oils), and oily fish like salmon, herring and sardines. Sunflower, soybean oil, nuts, seeds, some vegetables, as well as meat, poultry and eggs are rich in omega-6s. Both omega 3s and 6s are "vitally important as a structural component of your cells' membranes. The omega 3 fatty acid DHA plays an important role in both vision and optimal neurological function. Research has also shown that DHA is important to the fetal nervous system of pregnant women and an effective anti inflammatory for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Next post: The Skinny on Fat, Part II: Eat Fat, Get Skinny

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