Know your Fats

Research has shown is that it’s not only the amount of fat but the type of fat you consume that matters. The following are types of fats you encounter in your diet:

Monounsaturated fats: These fats remain liquid at low temperatures and are found in many vegetable oils (olive, peanut, canola). Monounsaturated fats lower total blood cholesterol by lowering LDL cholesterol, but not lowering HDL cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated fats: These fats are also liquid at room temperatures and are found in some vegetables oils (sesame, corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean). They also exist in fish and fish oils, which have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels. Polyunsaturated fat can lower HDL cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol, but it also lowers HDL, so limiting this type of fat is suggested.

Saturated fats: Usually solid or semi-solid at room temperature, these are unhealthy fats that encourage the body to produce more cholesterol, which, in most cases, raises blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat also stimulates the production of LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol.

Trans fats: Commonly known as hydrogenated fats, trans fats were devised as a money-saving tactic by the food industry to increase product stability and shelf life. In this process, hydrogen atoms are added to make fats more saturated, turning liquid oil into stick margarine or shortening. Trans fats have been banned in most retail products because they contribute to the risk of heart disease.

Here are a few other fat-related terms you should be familiar with:

LDL: Low-density lipoproteins are a type of fat protein that transports cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver to peripheral tissues, keeping cholesterol within the bloodstream. An excess of cholesterol carried by LDL leads to plaque buildup along your artery walls. LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol.

HDL: High-density lipoproteins enable fats to be transported within the bloodstream. HDL can remove cholesterol from artery walls and transport it back to the liver for excretion or to be used by the body. This is why HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol. An elevated level of HDL has been shown to protect against heart disease. Regular exercise helps to elevate HDL levels.

Triglycerides: These chemicals are the main form of fat in foods. They are produced within the body and stored as a fat from any excess calories from any food group. Alcohol can also elevate triglyceride levels. A high triglyceride level isn’t always a risk factor for heart disease. However, the risk increases if combined with other risk factors.

Omega-3 fats: This is a unique essential fatty acid (EFA) of polyunsaturated nature that you can’t manufacture in your body. They have been shown to reduce the clotting of blood platelets, thereby lowering the risk of arterial blockages and heart attacks. Some vegetarian sources are olive oil, walnuts, and flax seeds. Some fish with high levels of omega-3 fats are salmon, albacore, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, and tuna. Bottom feeders (mackerel) and very large fish (tuna) generally accumulate mercury, a toxin, and are best avoided.

Omega-6 fats: These fats are polyunsaturated and considered EFAs, but they’re not made in the body, so food is the only source. Most people consume these fats with regularity. Omega-6 fats include fatty acids such as linoleic and arachidonic acids. Excess intake of omega-6 fats has been linked to heart disease, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, ADHD, depression, and certain forms of cancer. Omega-3 and omega-6 are recommended in proportions of a much higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. The average American diet provides more than ten times the recommended amount of omega-6.

Classifying Dietary Fat

Fat TypeSourcesState at Room TemperatureEffect on Cholesterol
MonosaturatedOlive oil, sesame oil, flax oil, peanut oil, canola oil, nuts, avocado, whole grainsLiquidDecreases LDL, increases HDL
PolyunsaturatedFish, whole grain, cereals, corn, safflower oil, nuts, seeds, bananasLiquidDecreases LDL, increases HDL
SaturatedAll animal fats: meat poultry, fish, dairy products; chocolate, coconut, processed and fast foodsSolidIncreases LDL, increases HDL
Trans fatsMargarine, vegetable shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils, deep-fried foods, most fast foods, and commercially baked productsSolid or semi-solidIncreases LDL, decreases HDL, elevates triglycerides

Figuring your fat needs

You actually require very small amounts of dietary fat. Although the modern diet supplies more than 40 percent of its calories in fat, you can get by with 15 percent of your total calories derived from fat. A macrobiotic lifestyle encourages a low-fat diet, suggesting that with a higher degree of whole foods, you need less dietary fat. For transition diets, I recommend getting 20 percent of your calories from fat, gradually reducing to 15 percent. Dramatic arterial plaque reversals have been seen with diets in the 10 percent range.

On a whole foods diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, and fruits, it’s much easier to reduce fat cravings naturally. In addition to consuming small amounts of nuts as a snack or condiment and using 1 to 3 teaspoons of oil — depending on how many will be eating — in a daily sautéed dish, you’ll reduce or eliminate your for additional fats.

Your overall cholesterol level should be around 150 for maximum cardiac health. The famous Framingham Heart Study, so named for the Massachusetts city where it was started 1949, discovered after 30 years of monitoring that not a single person with a cholesterol level below 150 mg/dl had a heart attack.

On a whole foods diet that includes whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, and fruits, it’s much easier to reduce fat cravings naturally. In addition to consuming small amounts of nuts as a snack or condiment and using 1 to 3 teaspoons of oil — depending on how many will be eating — in a daily sautéed dish, you’ll reduce or eliminate your for additional fats.

Your overall cholesterol level should be around 150 for maximum cardiac health. The famous Framingham Heart Study, so named for the Massachusetts city where it was started 1949, discovered after 30 years of monitoring that not a single person with a cholesterol level below 150 mg/dl had a heart attack.

Eliminating or reducing fat cravings

Fat is a natural part of our dietary makeup, but strong cravings for fat can indicate a dietary imbalance. Look to see if any of the following reasons, individually or collectively, may be the cause of your fat cravings.

Avoid poor-quality carbohydrates: When your diet lacks the complex sugar of whole grain, you may crave fat, whether it be something fried, nuts, nut butters, or animal protein. Refined carbohydrates make blood sugar erratic, whereas fat can have a more regulating effect.

Reduce bread or flour products: Eaten your toast dry lately? It’s not the most pleasing experience. When I stopped eating dairy food in my late teens, the only substitute that would satisfy my toast and butter cravings would be toasted bread with some kind of nut butter, such as peanut or almond. When I go to an Italian restaurant, I no longer test myself. I don’t ask for a bread basket while I’m waiting for my order. Otherwise, I’ll inhale the entire basket and pour olive oil on every piece. It adds up, too. Reduce the amount of flour products you consume, and you may see your fat craving drop as well.

Limit comfort food: There’s something satisfying about the texture of creamy desserts. The most satisfying creamy comfort foods tend to be a mix of fatty and sweet, such as pudding, mashed potatoes smothered in butter, ice cream, and so on. Comfort food cravings have a more psychological basis than physiological. You may have positive associations that you relive when you enjoy comfort foods, or you may find refuge in a sensory world that helps you tune out current stresses. Although there can be some therapeutic value in all of this, unhealthy ingredients can weaken immunity and foster depression, worsening your state after you’ve finished your treat. Try to re-create some of your favorite comfort foods with healthier ingredients. Same principle, less toxicity.

Get some protein: In cases where you may lack protein, particularly during a dietary transition, one of the most common cravings is for fat, because fat seems to be a dietary equalizer, creating a sense of fullness and extended time for digestion. Eating small amounts of beans, bean products, or some animal protein (optional) can reduce this craving.

Get fanatical about fermentation: An old Chinese doctor whom I once studied with used to claim that fat cravings resulted from intestines that didn’t have adequate amounts of beneficial bacteria. Eating small amounts of fermented foods helped restore better bacterial conditions that would quickly reduce cravings. Sauerkraut, pickles, and miso diluted into a vegetable soup are good sources of quality fermentation.

Try supplements: If you’re craving fats all the time, your body may be trying to overcome a lack of fatty acids. In this case, if a dietary adjustment doesn’t seem to change the cravings, supplementation may be a more immediate and concentrated way to acquire those needs.

Get enough salt: Sometimes when you crave fatty foods like chips or french-fries, you’re really looking for dietary salt as opposed to more dietary fat. Yes, your body often talks to you through cravings, but sometimes the message is in another language!

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