You and Your Health - The facts on fats



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By Dr. Mark Perrett

Neepawa Banner & Press

This month’s articles have been on a variety of topics regarding nutrition and your health.  To continue with this, I felt it was very important to address the facts about the fats that we eat.

It can be very confusing when reading about what we should and shouldn’t be eating and fats is definitely one of these topics!  In the past we were told that when we eat fat we gain weight, and that our cholesterol will go up and our risk of cardiovascular disease increases.  We have eliminated a lot of fat from the North American diet and all of these problems have increased.  This has occurred mainly because we have eliminated the bad fats, but more importantly the good fats too, and replaced both of these with sugar. The truth is that fat is an essential part of our diet: it’s a major source of energy, it helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals, it is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is also essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.  It is important for your health to know there are different types of fats.

Bad Fats

The worst type of dietary fats are trans fat. These can be from natural animal sources but most of it is a by-product of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids to give them longer shelf life and prevent them from becoming rancid.    Food labels will list if trans fats are present but often trans fats are not listed  and are hidden in the food and listed as “partially hydrogenated oil”.  These fats can be found in many foods including: fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarine’s and other spreads.  Trans fats are such a concern that the World Health Organization has called for the elimination of them by 2023.  Many countries, including the USA have deemed them unhealthy for consumption and should be eliminated in your diet.  Research has shown that even small amounts of artificial trans fats can increase the risk for heart disease by increasing LDL “bad” cholesterol and decreasing HDL “good” cholesterol. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines simply recommend keeping trans fats consumption as low as possible.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are also considered “bad fats” when consumed in excess. Saturated fats are the ones that are solid at room temperature. (think bacon grease) The American heart association recommends that 5-6% of total calories comes from Saturated fats.  There has been recent studies that have shown natural sources of saturated fats do not raise your risk of heart disease and it is best to stay away from processed foods with saturated fats such as cured meats.   It is shown in multiple studies that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats does lower risk of heart disease.  More research is underway to determine the true risk of saturated fats.

​Excessive intake of saturated fats is also associated with Alzheimer’s disease, poor blood viscosity, breast cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke and prostate cancer.

Next week I will be discussing the good fats for our diet and giving you a plan on what you can do to improve your diet by incorporating these in your meal plan.