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For years, fats have been considered the culprit behind heart disease! After World War II, large studies established links between saturated fat and heart disease. Most dietary experts advised people to reduce their fat intake, not only because of the heart connection, but also because fat has more calories per gram than proteins or carbs and was assumed to contribute to weight gain.

Many people did so, but they often replaced the lost calories with large amounts of carbs— especially refined carbs. They also stopped eating healthy fats, like olive oil in an effort to cut down calories. Instead of improving their health or lose weight, the decline in fat consumption was accompanied by higher rates of overweight and obesity.

What went wrong? Don’t you feel that “Cut down all fat” was a wrong message?

Now we know that dietary fats are essential for maintaining good overall health! Your body needs a regular intake of fat. Fat helps give your body energy, protects your vital organs, supports cell growth, and helps your body absorb nutrients that are fat soluble. Fats are precursors of vital hormones especially the stress hormone and sex hormones. When you focus too much on cutting out all fat, you can actually deprive your body of what it needs most. Fats give you that feeling of satiety! Don’t you feel satiated after eating a well-balanced meal that has fats, proteins and complex carbs all together in that meal?

More importantly, not all fats are alike!!!!

Just as there are “good carbs” and “bad carbs” there are “good fats” and “bad fats”. For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include unsaturated fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include commercially-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.

Mediterranean-style diets emphasize healthy fats and healthy carbs. This could be one of the reasons why people living in Mediterranean countries have a lower-than-expected rate of heart disease. But don’t forget that the traditional lifestyle in that region includes lots of physical activity, regular meal times and good social support. It’s hard to know what relative role these different factors play — but there is growing evidence that the Mediterranean diet can reduce cardiovascular risk and the development of diabetes.

To understand the role of fats in our body, you have to look closer at the two types of dietary fats: saturated and unsaturated.

Saturated fats: These types of fats are primarily found in animal products like beef, pork, and high-fat dairy foods, like butter, cream, and cheese. Coconut oil also contains some saturated fat. High amounts of saturated fats are also found in many fast foods, processed foods and baked foods like cookies and pastries. These fats tend to be more “solid” at room temperature.

Now the question is – “Is saturated fat totally bad for you?” A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which could prompt the formation of blockages in arteries. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of your total calories a day. But a handful of recent reports have made us to think again about the link between saturated fat and heart disease. One meta-analysis of 21 studies said that there was not enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, but that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease. Two other major studies narrowed the prescription slightly, concluding that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils or high-fiber carbohydrates is the best bet for reducing the risk of heart disease, but replacing saturated fat with highly processed carbohydrates could do the opposite.

My understanding of saturated fats is that there is no need to completely cut out saturated fats from your diet but there is definitely a need to keep its quantity in check and include good sources of anti-oxidant rich foods such as fresh, colourful, organic fruits and vegetables rich in phytonutrients in your diet that will aid in keeping free-radicle damage in check and in turn keep inflammation in check and in turn offer protection against heart disease!

Unsaturated fats: found in healthy oils like olive oil & avocado oil, actually protect your health by improving your cholesterol profile.

Good unsaturated fats come mainly from nuts & seeds & cold water fish. They differ from saturated fats by having fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, unlike saturated fats that are solid at room temperature. There are two broad categories of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Mono-unsaturated fats: When you dip your bread in olive oil at an Italian restaurant, you’re getting mostly monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two less hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at that double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocados, most nuts, high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.

Poly-unsaturated fats: have two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Both types offer health benefits. Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.

Omega 3 (The Hero): may help prevent heart disease and stroke. In addition to reducing blood pressure, raising HDL, and lowering triglycerides, polyunsaturated fats may help keep inflammation in check and in turn help relieve symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions in the body. Get your omega 3s from cold water fish and nuts and seeds.

Trans fats: are the worst fats for your health! They are a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy poly-unsaturated oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption. Trans fats raise harmful LDL cholesterol, lower beneficial HDL cholesterol and make blood more likely to clot. Trans fats lead to inflammation! Now inflammation is not something to be afraid of! In fact, Inflammation plays a central role in healing, but left to run wild, this process can lead to chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and many others! They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even small amounts of trans fats can be harmful to your health! Stay away from trans fats at all cost!

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Preeti Syal

The content provided in my blogs are for knowledge sharing purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.