Healthy Habits: Cut Down on Harmful Fats and Oils
Meat and dairy products, big hitters in the standard American diet, are big on fat.
The surprise is that from the early 1900s till now, the lion's share of dietary-fat increases in the typical American diet has come from fats and oils things like vegetable shortening, margarine, and refined salad and cooking oils.2
Fats and oils are often categorized together under the single term fats. As you read, please keep that in mind. The world of fats can be a confusing one, and yet your health depends upon a good, basic understanding.
Let me see if I can't melt down a ton of information into a few basic facts to help you keep your fats (and oils) straight.
Fats are found in both the animal and plant kingdoms. In fact, every living thing contains some amount of fat. This is true because all cell membranes (both animal and plant) contain fatty acids.3
Fats are mixtures of different fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. They differ in their composition, depending upon which fatty acid predominates. For instance:
- Beef fat, classified as saturated = 7.1 grams per tablespoon also contains 6.0 grams monounsaturated plus 0.5 grams polyunsaturated.4
- Olive oil, classified as monounsaturated = 9.8 grams per tablespoon also contains 1.9 grams saturated plus 1.2 grams polyunsaturated.5
Saturated fat is the "bad boy" of the fat world, for the following reasons:
Excess cholesterol Saturated fat stimulates your liver to overproduce cholesterol. Our bodies need cholesterol as building blocks for cell membranes, digestive juices, and sex hormones, but like many things, too much of a good thing is not good. One thing leads to another, and all of a sudden you've got a major health crisis on your hands.
Circulatory diseases As all this cholesterol finds a home in our arteries, it begins to shut off the flow of blood and oxygen to our various organs and body parts. As a result, they begin to deteriorate. Nasty things happen, depending upon which arteries are being clogged, like chest pains, heart attacks, strokes, lung problems, gangrene in the legs, blindness, loss of hearing, sexual impotence.
Cancer Diets high in saturated fats have also been linked to a number of cancers, including those of the colon and breast the second and third most prevalent killers among cancers after lung cancer. Other types we could be developing as we eat our way through 140 to 170 grams of fat a day (the average daily consumption of an adult American)6 include cancers of the gallbladder, pancreas, prostate, uterus, and ovaries just to name a few.
Saturated fat, solid at room temperature, is predominant in animal fats such as butter and lard. Coconut and palm oils are also very high in saturated fat. And believe it or not, all margarines and vegetable shortenings, even though they are made from healthier oils, are saturated fat as finished products. They become so as a result of the hydrogenation process they undergo to become solids.
"In the process of making liquid corn oil, safflower oil, and all other 'polyunsaturated' oils into margarine," writes David Reuben, M.D., "they are transformed into plain, ordinary 'saturated' oils. That has to be one of the greatest unexposed scandals in history. By hardening the vegetable oils, the margarine sellers are offering you the very saturated fats they claim to be helping you avoid."7
And as long as we're talking about margarines and shortenings, you must be warned about another negative. When you heat a polyunsaturated vegetable oil you begin to change the nature of its fatty acids. High heat, which is used to make margarine and shortenings, forms substances in these products called "trans-fatty" acids. These unnatural substances, which our bodies cannot effectively use, have been linked to circulatory diseases and cancer.8 Margarine and shortenings just don't have anything going for them nutritionally-in fact, they are damaging to our bodies. Unfortunately, many of the bakery products at our local supermarkets contain one or more of these products.
From HEALTHY HABITS: 20 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health by David J. Frahm as used by arrangement with Jeremy P. Tarcher, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2003 by David and Anne Frahm. All rights reserved.
To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.