Fat terms to live byIn order to adjust your fat intake for a heathier body, you first need to know the terminology of fats and what foods to use and avoid. Here is a quick primer on fats and fat-related terms:
• Cholesterol: A yellowish, fatlike substance produced mostly in the liver and in lesser amounts in the intestines and specialized cells throughout the body. Cholesterol is necessary for the production of sex hormones, synthesis of Vitamin D, and is a vital part of the production of cell membranes and nerve coatings. The body actually produces enough cholesterol on its own, without additional food intake, so a cholesterol-free diet is not hazardous to your health. Excesses of cholesterol cause the formation of plaque, which attaches itself to arterial pathways and causes clogs in the bloodflow leading to heart attacks.
• LDLs: The acronym represents low-density lipoprotein. The liver breaks down fats into "bad" LDLs and its "good" children, HDLs (see below). It carries cholesterol to cell membranes for production and repair, and also to the production center for sex hormones. But, it is also the target enemy as the bad guy placque, which clogs arteries and causes heart attacks due to poor bloodflow. When the body has enough cholesterol for its needs, it refuses to accept any more, and lets it ride in the bloodstream. It eventually attaches itself to the walls of blood vessels, causing placque deposits. Carrots, alfalfa sprouts, and oatmeal have been shown to be a good eliminators of those nasty LDLs.
• HDLs: An acronym for high-density lipoproteins, these are the good guys of cholesterol, which carry away LDLs through the blood to be eliminated via the liver. HDLs can be increased by diet, weight control, exercise, and not smoking.
• Triglycerides: These fats are measurable in the bloodstream by special tests which help physicians judge your fat consumption. Levels in excess of 190 milligrams for women and 400 milligrams for men indicate a need for intervention to avoid heart disease.
• Saturated Fats: Intake of saturated fats should be strictly limited, as these are most associated with the increase of cholesterol levels and the cause of some forms of cancer. They raise HDLs, triglycerides, and particularly, LDLs. This type of fat comes from animal sources and is in a solid state when at room temperature, with the exception of tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil, which come from plants and are semisolid at room temperature. Cut consumption to under 10 percent of your total calories, by choosing lean cuts of meats and skinless white meat of poultry. Portion size should be roughly the size of a deck of cards. Sources of saturated fats: butter, lard, suet, some margarines, and vegetable shortening.
• Unsaturated Fats: This category is further broken down into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which come primarily from plants. The oils are liquid at room temperature and contain varying percentages of both sub-types, which will be explained further in their own definitions below.
• Polyunsaturated Fats: Although considered relatively healthy, some studies have shown that diets high in polyunsaturated fats can cause some forms of cancer and gallstones. Yet it is the body's primary source of linoleic acid. It is needed by the body for the formation of cells and normal functioning of the nervous system. Products high in polyunsaturated fats have actually been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. However, it is important to avoid those which have been hydrogenated (refer to Hydrogenated Fats below.) Polyunsaturated fats are derived from plants. Sources: safflower, corn and sunflower oils, nuts, and seeds.
• Omega-3 Oils: This classification of polyunsaturated fats is the most highly-touted health find in recent years. It is found in some land plants as well as in marine plant life called phytoplankton. Sea life feeds on the plankton, causing the Omega-3 to reside in the tissues of all sea creatures in varying levels. Recent studies have shown Omega-3 to be especially beneficial in lowering the "bad cholesterol" (LDL) and triglyceride levels in coronary artery disease patients. They also inhibit production of plaque deposits in arteries, limit fibrinogen which reduces clotting (and thus strokes and high blood pressure), contain anti-inflammatory properties helpful in the treatment of arthritis, and related diseases, and inhibit the growth of tumors. Omega-3 diets have been prescribed for women during high risk pregnancies, since it not only reduces blood pressure, but also inhibits the formation of blood clots in the placenta which could lead to miscarriage. It is important to note that if you increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids and do not reduce your saturated fat intake, you will actually see a slight increase in cholesterol levels. Use Omega-3s as a substitute for, not addition to, saturated fats. Sources: flax seed, sardines, herring, mackerel, bluefish, tuna, salmon, pilchard, butterfish, and pompano.
• Hydrogenated Fats: Some polyunsaturated fats and all margarines undergo a process called hydrogenation, which not only makes them useful for baking, but also prolongs shelf life. This process creates trans-fatty acids which act like saturated fats, increasing cholesterol production in the body, and negating any potential positive benefits they had as polyunsaturated fats. Sources: vegetable oils, margarine, snack foods, fried fast foods, and cookies.
• Monounsaturated Fats: These fats have been shown to reduce LDL's, but have relatively no effect on HDLs; except for olive oil which can increase the beneficial HDLs. Although olive oil is an excellent substitute for saturated fats, keep in mind that it is still high in calories. A little goes a long way. Sources: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, almonds, cashews, and peanuts.
More About Fats and Healthy Recipes:• Fat Substitutes - Are they healthy?
• Fat Terminology - Good Fats and Bad Fats
• Fat Math - How much fat should you eat?
• Fat Labels
• Diet Recipes and Resources