Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What Does Fat *Really* Do For Your Body?

We hear so much about fat as though it were the bogeyman under your'd daughter's bed. Like that monster, it's ugly and will do nothing but hurt you. Also like that monster, it should be avoided at all costs. But what's true and what isn't? Even if the monster doesn't actually exist, it can strike fear in the hearts of children in the same way that magazine articles do about things such as high-fructose corn syrup and saturated fast. But is this warranted? What role should fat actually have in our diets?

It's true that many doctors in the US recommend that we reduce the fats in our diet. Ditto cholesterol. After all, an overage of these things has been linked to obesity, heart disease, gallbladder disease and some types of cancer. However, note the word reduce. We actually need a certain amount-however small-of these in our diets. The problem is that we often don't know exactly how to tell 'the good' from 'the bad' and how we can apply this information to our daily intake. It's important to remember that most foods have a mix of the different kinds of fat. For instance-

Monounsaturated fats-These are the kind of fats you'd find in plant-based foods such as avocados, peanut butter various kinds of seeds and nuts. They are also present in many of the oils such as olive, peanut, sesame and sunflower that we may use to cook. Unlike trans- and saturated fats, these have been found to reduce your cholesterol and may actually reduce your chance of cardiovascular disease.

Saturated fats-These are the ones people usually think of when we hear the word 'fat'. They tend to be found in animal-derived foods such as whole milk and red meats. They can be found in commercially-baked goods if those goods are prepared with coconut and palm-kernel oils, such as cookies and some crackers. These are the ones that are more 'solid' and thus more likely to raise cholesterol levels. For this reason, it's recommended that you cut down on these foods and, if possible, make substitutions. Simple things like using a different kind of oils or drinking 2% or skim milk can make a big difference over time.

Trans-fats-These fats are created when vegetable oils are converted to a more solid and shelf-stable substance through a process called hydrogenation. Oddly enough, the trans-fats are mostly created when the process is only partially completed, such as in things like margarine. Essentially, the solid and solid-ish fats are the ones that can raise cholesterol and thus clog your arteries.

Polyunsaturated fats-These are basically a subset of monounsaturated fats that can be found in soy and corn oils.

As you can see, just because a food has fats in it doesn't automatically mean it's bad for you. Like monsters, some fats are easier on your heart and may actually be good for you. Like the monster under your child's bed, they're not all fearsome. Besides, who could be afraid of this guy? 

 He might lick you to death, but that's about it!

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