Fat is a macronutrient which is needed in optimum levels to enable proper functioning of our body systems. Fats are important for providing energy, absorbing vitamins and regulating the cholesterol levels in our blood. While taking the right kinds of fats can help to lose weight and improve our cardiac health, emphasis should be laid to eliminate the bad ones from our diet.
Dietary Fats can broadly be categorized into saturated and unsaturated fats.
- Saturated fats- They are abundant in red meat (mutton, beef), organ meats (liver, kidney), butter, whole milk, cheese, palm oil and cocoa butter. They tend to elevate the LDL cholesterol levels in the blood and are also responsible for weight gain. They should be either restricted or had only in moderation.
- Unsaturated fats- Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the two unsaturated fats. They are found in nuts like almond and walnuts, fish and fish oil supplements, olive oil, flax seeds ,etc. Both poly and mono unsaturated fatty acids may help to reduce the blood cholesterol levels by lowering the bad LDL cholesterol and at times improving the good HDL cholesterol.
- Hydrogenated and Trans fats- During food processing ,as in preparation of margarine and other shortening spreads, fats may undergo a chemical process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation results in a change of position of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon chain and renders the fatty acid harmful for heart health. These fatty acids tend to raise the blood cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol and pose a greater health risk than saturated fats.
Fats which improve your heart health
When choosing fats, the best options would be the unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats, if used in place of saturated and trans fats, can lower the risk of heart disease by reducing the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in your blood. Another important group of long chain poly unsaturated fatty acids called essential fats are especially beneficial to maintain good heart health. They reduce the risk to coronary artery diseases, lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats. There are two families of essential fatty acids (fatty acids which are essential but cannot be synthesized in the body), namely Omega-3 and Omega-6. The Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from Linolenic Acid and the Omega-6 ones from Linoleic Acid. Our body needs the right balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to build and repair cell membrane and oxygenate the tissues.
A primary function of these EFAs is to enable the synthesis of prostaglandins (hormone like compounds) in body, which are crucial to heart health. The prostaglandins are responsible for regulating heart rate, blood pressure and clotting. Prostaglandins also play a role in neural development, fertility, conception and building immunity to fight inflammations, free radical damage and infections.
An ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should be 4:1 and that can be met by reducing intake of processed foods and increasing intake of nuts, fish and flaxseeds. Most diets are lacking in appropriate levels of EFAs. A deficiency in EFA or w3/w6 ratio imbalance is related to serious health consequences as EFA help to metabolize the bad fats and expel them from our body. Include EFAs in combination to fiber, enzymes and antioxidants to improve energy metabolism, lose weight and maintain good heart health.