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12/04/2012 18:43:12
Fats and oils: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Why are fats so important?

They can be used as an energy source; while a gram of carbohydrate or protein contains four calories, one gram of fat contains nine. As a major part of cell membrane, fats transport nutrients such as the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, help balance our hormones, protect us from the cold, and keep arteries and joints lubricated.

Fats, in moderation, should be part of everyone’s diet. But with so much information out there, which fats are good, bad, or ugly?

Unlike what you may have heard saturated fats are not evil when consumed in moderation, that is. They are usually solid at room temperature and the more saturated the fat, the more solid it will be.

Saturated fats act as stabilizers for cell membranes and are the main fuel for making cholesterol and enhance immune system function. Some examples of this wonderful fat are: butter, cheese, beef, coconut oil, and lard. Due to its stability, saturated fats are great choices to use for cooking and high-heat baking.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and can be classified as either monounsaturated, for their single double bond on the molecular level or polyunsaturated for two or more double bonds.

Monounsaturated fats moisturize the skin and keep arteries supple. Since our body can synthesize it, they are considered not essential. Some sources are olive oil, avocadoes, almonds, sesame oil, grape seed oil and sunflower oil. These fats can tolerate some heat and are excellent choices when used for sautéing in medium-heat temperature.

Essential to our health are the polyunsaturated fats as our bodies cannot synthesize them. These include omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which are mainly liquid at room temperature and can easily oxidize leading to molecular breakdown when heated; therefore should not be used as cooking oils. Common sources of omega 3 fatty acids include hemp, flaxseeds (seeds and oil), chia, walnuts, and cold water fish such as salmon, herring, and sardines.

What makes the omega 3 fatty acids so important to our health? Omega 3, alpha linolenic acid, is anti-inflammatory and plays a major role for preventing blood clotting, lowering blood pressure and optimizing immune system functions. It’s also excellent for nervous and mental function and fundamental for brain growth and development in infants and children.

The omega 6 fatty acid in the PG1 (prostaglandin) series can also be anti-inflammatory; however when not properly assimilated by the body its effects can be pro-inflammatory. Today omega 6 fatty acid is too abundant in the standard North American diet ranging from 6:1 to 10:1 with omega 3, when a more ideal range is 1:1 to 4:1. Common oil sources are sunflower, soy, safflower, and corn.

A fat to be aware of and avoid whenever possible are trans fats and hydrogenated oils such as margarine. These fats have been chemically processed to make it stable and unreactive; they behave as saturated fats even though they are polyunsaturated fats causing them to be solid and spreadable at room temperature and have extremely long shelf life which does not equal longer health life. These fats can increase immune dysfunction, total cholesterol levels and decrease levels of HDL, which is known as the “good cholesterol”.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to include fats in your diet. A balance of saturated and unsaturated fats will not only add flavour to your meals, but will also improve cellular function and immune system health leading to a longer and happier life.

Yours in Nutrition,
Flávia Roberta Martins Young

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