To trim the confusing fat story into terms that help us make wise food choices, we need to understand the three basic types of dietary fats:
· Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs),
· Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and
· Saturated fats (SFAs)
What makes a good fat a healthy fat and a bad fat an unhealthy one is dependent on the chemical structure of the fat or the degree of saturation?
The fat molecule is composed mostly of hydrogen atoms attached to carbon atoms in a carbon chain. On this molecule there are open spaces, like parking spaces. When all the available spots, or parking spaces, on the carbon atom are filled (i.e., saturated) with hydrogenated atoms, the fat is said to be saturated. If one or more places on the carbon are not filled with hydrogen, the fat is called unsaturated. A fat molecule with one empty space is called a monounsaturated fat and if two or more spots on the atom are empty, the fat is known as a poly unsaturated fat.
The Bad FatsWhat are Saturated Fats? Saturated fats are mainly the animal fats. They are found in meat, seafood (especially the shell fish such as lobsters, crabs, etc), whole-milk and milk products (cheese, paneer, and ice cream), and egg yolks. Some plant foods which are high in saturated fats are coconut, coconut oil and palm oil. Studies have shown that saturated fats raise total blood cholesterol levels more than dietary cholesterol because they tend to boost both good HDL and bad LDL cholesterol. The net effect is negative, meaning it’s important to limit saturated fats.
What are Trans Fats?Trans – fatty acids are fats produced by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation. The more hydrogenated an oil is, the harder it will be at room temperature.
Most of the trans fats in our diets are found in commercially prepared baked foods like mawa cakes and patties , margarines, vanaspati ghee(dalda), snack foods (farsaan, a like French fries and onion rings, also contain a good deal of trans fat.
Trans fats are the worst for cholesterol levels because they raise bad LDL and lower good HDL. While you should limit your intake of saturated fats, it is important to completely eliminate trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils from your diet.
The Good FatsWhat are Unsaturated Fats–Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated?
Unsaturated fats are found in products derived from plant sources, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. There are two main categories:
a) Polyunsaturated fats (present in sunflower, corn, and soybean oils) and
b) Monounsaturated fats (present in rice bran, canola, peanut, and olive oils).
Studies on intake of these fats have shown to decrease LDL levels and increase HDL levels, hence are labeled as good fats.
The best to the worst fats:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: decrease cholesterol; decrease total fats or triglycerides
- Monounsaturated fats: decrease total fats; decrease LDL (bad cholesterol); no effect on HDL (good cholesterol).
- Polyunsaturated fats: decrease total cholesterol; decrease LDL; decrease HDL.
- Saturated fats: increase total cholesterol; increase LDL
- Trans-fatty acids: increase total fats; increase cholesterol; increase LDL; may decrease HDL.
Tips to reduce bad fats in your diet
Here are some practical suggestions to help you cut down on fat, especially saturated fat and trans-fatty acids:
· Grill, bake, or steam rather than frying using less amount of oil.
· Replace full fat milk with reduced or low fat milk, or milk alternatives like soy-milk
· Avoid intake of red meats and organ meats as are rich in saturated fats.
· Trans-fat is often contained in processed foods, so reading nutritional information at the back of packet is important before buying.
· Measure oil for cooking with tablespoons rather than pouring it straight from a container.
· Eat at least 3-5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. They are high in soluble fiber and contain no cholesterol.
· Prefer fish, chicken and egg whites over processed meat products like sausages and salami.
· Eat whole grains (jowar, bajra, nachni, whole wheat), whole wheat breads, or high fiber breakfast cereals (oat, muesli, bran, corn flakes ),instead of white bread.
· Use lemon juice or vinegar or low fat curds rather than creamy dressings or mayonnaise.
· Drink plenty of fluids each day, particularly water, instead of sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol.
· Avoid prepared food, snacks and meals unless you’ve checked the energy, fat and salt content.
· Leave farsan, pastries, biscuits, cakes and rich desserts for special occasions only – not everyday.
· Choose low or reduced fat options where available e.g. milk, yoghurt, ice cream, cheese, sour cream.
· Avoid fatty and salty takeaways because they tend to be high in all the wrong things (calories, fat and salt).
· Eat raw onion, garlic cloves, flax seeds ( alsi seeds)and 5-6 almonds every day for better HDL levels.
· Keep a food diary to become more aware of your food habits and note areas where changes are required.
· Include a brisk walk of 30-40 minutes in your daily routine.
Fat has gained an undeserved reputation as a nutrient to be avoided, but, it is not necessarily as bad as often made out to be. Using good fats such as the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, along with heart friendly omega three essential fatty acids, is an important way to improve health and reduce disease, while sculpting the body of your dreams.
Conversely, bad dietary fats such as saturated and trans fats can cause major health problems and are best limited. Indeed, using the beneficial fats to ones advantage while reducing, and in some cases eliminating bad fats, is one of the keys to good health…!