Over the past 40 years, the “public enemy number one” of food has been fat. We spend billions of dollars per year on low-fat foods, fake-fat chips, pills that block the absorption of fat into the digestive system, and all types of specials diets and cookbooks. And, in the past 30 years, we have reduced the amount of fat in our diet by 34% on average. The problem is, we aren’t any thinner or healthier for all this effort. Actually, we are larger and unhealthier than ever. One reasons for this is that there are some fats that are good for you, but we are not including them in our diet.
Let’s take a look at which fats need to remain minimal in your diet and which should be eaten. There are four main categories of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fatty acids. Fats have many important jobs within the realm of nutrition. They serve critical functions in the body, including insulation, cell structure, nerve transmission, vitamin absorption and hormone production. In addition, consuming the proper amount and types of fats reduces the hunger we feel in between meals and snacks. That hunger, perceived or real, drives us to eat more and more calories. Calories, whether from fat or not, add up to more pounds and kilos, and a wider waistline.
Saturated Fats These are the fats that harden at room temperature. Approximately 2 dozen saturated fats exist in nature. They are found in large proportion in meat and animal fat, dairy products and palm and coconut oil. These are the fats that affect your cholesterol and lead to atherosclerosis – the process of clogging of the arteries. Butter and dairy product are the worst of the bunch, followed by animal fats, and then by chocolate and cocoa butter.
Trans Fats These man-made fats were created by solidifying a polyunsaturated fat through heating and hydrogen. They help increase the shelf life of foods. Trans fats are found in margarine, products such as Crisco, and in the hydrogenated vegetable oil which is found in food products. BEWARE! These fats are hazardous to your health, and even if a product claims to be free of trans fats, it may still have some. Check the ingredients for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. If you find that word, then the product contains trans fats regardless of what is stated on the label. And be aware that the latest research has shown us that the harm caused by trans fats is at least twice as damaging as saturated fats.
Monounsaturated Fats This fat is liquid at room temperature and is essential in your diet. It is a healthy fat. Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, as well at avocados and nuts are excellent sources of this fat. Even grape seed oil, macadamia nut oil and whole wheat products contain some monounsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats This fat is also liquid at room temperature and comes in two varieties: N-6 and N-3. We get these fats, also important in your diet, from plant oils such as corn and soybean, or seeds, whole grains, and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. The balance between the N-6 and N-3 is very important. N-6 is more common, so look for omega 3 in order to maintain that balance.
The benefits of consuming both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include lowering your LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising your HDL (good cholesterol). They also prevent an increase in triglycerides that can occur in a high carbohydrate diet, reduce the development of irregular heart beats, and reduce the incidence of blood clots.
Trans fats, found in abundance today, need to be avoided at almost all costs. They have been found to be very aggressive in starting or sustaining the process that leads to clogged arteries. Saturated fats need to be limited to no more than 10%-12% of your dietary intake.
One of the main things to remember is that eliminating any food group completely, or reducing it to levels that virtually eliminate its benefits, is only going to be detrimental to your health. We need unrefined carbohydrates, we need proteins, and yes – we need fats. Eating a balanced diet including healthful fats, and including exercise in our daily lives, is another important way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 15 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss center Lose It! together with Linda Holtz M.S. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at email@example.com