Good Fats/Bad Fats
In medical research, obesity has been associated with such diseases as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. But the data doesn't implicate being overweight as much as it does a poor diet and lack of exercise. Given that there are so many benefits that come from a good diet and exercise, it is no wonder that it is the primary recommendation of many holistically oriented physicians.
Having a good diet doesn't mean dieting, it means making good choices about what you eat. Take fat for example. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to survive. Cholesterol, in fact, is made by our bodies and is what our hormones are originally made from. Cholesterol is also an important component of each cell in our bodies, keeping cell membranes pliable and healthy.
Some fats are healthy, while others are not. The unhealthy fats include saturated and partially hydrogenated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal fats, dairy products, coconut and palm oil. They can increase "bad cholesterol" (LDL) and decrease "good cholesterol" (HDL) in our bodies. Partially hydrogenated fats, found in margarine, fried foods, and pastries, are unhealthy because they can lower HDL and also increase free-radical damage in our blood vessels, potentially contributing to the clogging of our arteries. Free radicals are substances that are missing electrons, and as such they try to snatch electrons from our cells, thus causing damage at a cellular level. Free radicals are what cause fats to go "rancid", and they are neutralized by antioxidants. Good antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, and bioflavonoids.
The process of hydrogenation takes a liquid fat and turns it into a semi-solid fat. Poly- and monounsaturated fats are more beneficial as they can lower total cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats come from plant oils, including corn, sesame, sunflower, and soy. Monounsaturated fats are even better because they can lower LDL but not HDL. They are found in olive and canola oil. Fish oils are also beneficial in that they can help increase HDL.
At this point, I'd like to voice my concerns about a new fat on the market, Olestra®, a fat synthesized from sugar and vegetable oil, now available in some snack products. Due to the size of the fat molecules, it doesn't get absorbed when you eat it. In my opinion, not only are you paying for something that has no benefit for your body, but you may also risk suffering from diarrhea, bowel incontinence, and malabsorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), which are necessary for many important biological functions in the body.
Also worth mentioning is food marketed as "fat-free". This is a marketing tool. Many of the foods labeled "fat-free" never had any fat in them, but they do usually contain a lot of sugar, which, if not utilized by the body, will be turned into fat anyway. "Snackwell Syndrome" is a term being used to describe how consumers binge on "fat free" cookies and snacks thinking they're doing their bodies a favor, yet gain weight due to all the sugar, flour and calories they contain. They are devoid of any real nutritional value. Of course, cravings are hard to ignore, but often certain amino acids and chromium picolinate can help reduce the desire for carbohydrates by helping regulate blood sugar levels. Some amino acids not only may help cravings, but may also reduce appetite and help increase fat utilization and metabolism.
Taking care to look at your fat and sugar intake and making healthy choices as to the types of fats you consume can spill over to many areas of health. Keep to the healthy fats and maintain a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables to ensure your body all the nutrients necessary for proper functioning.
Dr. Deborah Moskowitz