TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – January 2003

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Fat Makes You Fat
Or does it? Seems like there's a different story about fat in our diet in the news every week. Makes it very hard to know what you should or shouldn't eat. First it was low-fat everything. People mistakenly believed they could lose weight and stay healthy by avoiding fat in their diet – even while eating too many calories and not burning them off with exercise. Later, the high-fat high-protein "carb-o-phobic" diets like Atkins and Zone became popular. However, those diets have some disturbing health aspects. Like so many things in life, I believe the middle path is best: eating a moderate amount of healthy fats in a balanced diet. But what's a healthy fat? By now, you know that all fats are not created equal. There are three major kinds:
  • Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products: meat, whole milk, butter, and cheese. However, some tropical oils like coconut and palm are also high in saturated fat. You should probably avoid ingesting too much sat fat. There is good scientific evidence that a diet high in saturated fat can increase your risk of cancer and heart disease.

  • Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and avocados. Cultures with native diets high in monounsaturated fats (especially olive oil) experience a much lower rate of heart disease and cancer than those with food intakes high in saturated fat.

  • Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower seeds, soybeans, sesame seeds, corn oil, and in cold-water fish such as salmon. Like the monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fatty acids help reduce LDL (bad) blood cholesterol levels, and should be part of most healthy diets.

You may have heard about a fourth kind of fat: trans-fats. These are commonly found in commercially prepared baked goods and snack foods, and also in deep-fried foods. Look for "partially-hydrogenated" something or other on the label. Food manufacturers like hydrogenated oils because they stay solid at room temperature and help preserve food (and they're cheap). It was thought at one time they were a good alternative to solid animal fats like lard and butter. However, trans-fats are bad news. They behave like saturated fats in the body (or worse), and can lead to coronary artery disease and other serious problems.

OK. It seems pretty simple, right? Avoid saturated and trans-fats, and substitute monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats for good health. We're almost there, but there's more… Recent research has shown that good nutrition is contingent upon a balance between two types of polyunsaturated fats known as linolenic (Omega-6) and alpha-linolenic (Omega-3) fatty acids. In America, the ratio is 20:1 (Omega-6/Omega-3), whereas in other countries with lower rates of "modern" diseases, the ratio ranges from 5:1 to 10:1. This imbalance is now being linked to many serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and even arthritis. Omega-6 is found in corn, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils. However, you can still consume those otherwise-healthy fats as long as you balance them with a few servings of Omega-3's each week. Fatty fish, canola oil, flaxseed, and walnuts are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Instead of trying to cut all fat out of your diet (which can create health problems and lead to extreme hunger), just reduce your consumption of saturated and trans-fats. Include a moderate amount of healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, and get enough Omega-3. It's easier than you think. Just read the labels.

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