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he Truth About Fat
by Kim Paolino

In order to maintain its good health the body needs a certain amount of fat. Fats, or lipids, are necessary for the proper functioning of cell membranes, skin, and hormones, as well as providing transportation of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K to all parts of the body. It's stored as an energy source, and protects vital organs. Fat also is the major source of fuel for light to moderate intensity exercise.

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A lot of the food we consume is loaded with fat, but do we know just what type, and what affect it has on our bodies? Ideally, eating less of all kinds of fat is the best course of action. There's a lot to know, and it can be quite overwhelming.

First, let me touch a little on cholesterol. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the fats in the bloodstream and in all cells of the body. These substances are physically unable to dissolve in the blood, and need to be transported to and from cells by carriers call lipoproteins.

High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), or the good cholesterol, collects excess cholesterol in the blood and delivers it to the liver. Here, it undergoes reprocessing and is discharged. Low Density Lipoprotein, or LDL, also know as the bad cholesterol, when in excess, builds up on the arterial walls and can increase the risk of heart disease. The types of fats we consume play an important role in our levels of serum or blood cholesterol.

Fats are categorized into what we most commonly refer to as saturated and unsaturated, with unsaturated fats divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. One other fat that's not quite as familiar, and the unhealthiest to consume, is trans fat.

Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources such as meat and poultry, as well as, milk, butter, and eggs, and can also be found in some vegetable oils. They stay solid or semi-solid at room temperature.

Unfortunately, those delicious fast food restaurants we frequent way too often, serve food that is loaded with saturated fat. These artery-clogging fats are considered unhealthy and play a major role in blood cholesterol levels. A diet high in saturated fat may increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels, this resulting to an increased risk of heart disease.

Unsaturated fat, although considered the healthier fat, in excess is not necessarily good for you. They're just not as bad as saturated or trans fats. Unsaturated fat is generally found in vegetables. Monounsaturated fat can be found in such oils as, olive and canola oil. They stay liquid at room temperature, but begin to congeal when refrigerated. Nuts and avocados also contain monounsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat can be found in corn, soybean and sunflower oils. Both at room temperature and in the refrigerator, these oils remain liquid. Polyunsaturated fats are the main fats in seafood, and are considered a healthy fat that does not clog arteries.

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Just when you thought you knew it all, here comes trans fats. Trans fats are formed when liquid vegetable oils are mixed with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide, and subjected to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Then, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency.

Unpleasant odor is then removed by steam-cleaning the oil at high temperatures. At this point, any natural color is removed by bleach, dyes and flavors are added, and finally, the result is hardened vegetable oils that remain solid at room temperature. Sounds unreal doesn't it? This process is called hydrogenation.

Trans fats are added to processed foods for a longer shelf life and enhancement of flavor. When eating those tasty fried foods from your neighborhood restaurant, know that they tend to use a lot of trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oil) to cook with.

The bad news is, these fats are worse for the cardiovascular system and result in a higher risk of heart disease and stroke then the already unhealthy saturated fat.

A lot of foods we eat contain hidden trans fats but Americans remain clueless as to how much because most food labels do not list this information. While they list the total grams of fat, it does not include trans fat. The FDA is in the process of changing guidelines to have food manufacturers include trans fat on their labels.

Think about this, when that cookie you are eating lists only two grams of saturated fat per serving, know that it actually contains double that amount when trans fat is taken into account. This goes for a lot of other items, such as, margarine, crackers, apple pie, fish sticks, salad dressing, and of course, french fries and doughnuts.

Until these guidelines are changed, we can only render a guess as to how much trans fat our food contains. If you see partially hydrogenated oils or fats listed in the ingredients, that food contains trans fat. Although foods containing trans fat are great tasting, it is the worst fat you can eat. This phantom fat raises LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of premature heart disease.

When it comes to cancer, researchers are unable to pinpoint which types of fat increases the risk, they just know a diet high in fat does. Such diets have been linked with an increased risk of breast, lung, colon and prostrate cancers. Good enought reason to eat less fat!

Understandably, this is a lot of information to absorb and is quite frightening in itself. So lets be smart, we know what we need to do. Read labels, aim for moderation, not elimination, of fat in your diet. Know your limits; eat less meat and more fruit and vegetables each day. Include more whole grains, and beans, while limiting sweets, and other high-fat food. Incorporate the healthier types of fats into your diet. Eat carefully!

Source: The Franklin Institute Online
Health Link-Medical College of Wisconsin

Food for Thought presents solutions to the dilemma we face every day, what's to eat?! Senior writer, and assistant editor, Kim Paolino is not a dietician or nutritionist, just someone going through the ups and downs of trying to make healthy eating choices in a society bombarded with conflicting information, and too many options. Hopefully, you'll find her insightful suggestions, recipes, and tips helpful in making eating right, fun and delicious. Comments or questions, send email to: KIM


Advice found on this website is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for dealing with a given problem. Always use common sense when exercising, and see your doctor for any, and all serious medical conditions.