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The Cardiologist's Wife - Good Fat vs Bad Fat
Aug 24, 2018

This week I conclude my series on feeding your children (and yourself!) a healthy diet by talking about fat. Fat is possibly the least understood and most problematic nutrient. And yes, fat is a nutrient just like protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Your body needs fat to be healthy. But what kinds of fat and how much do we need? For years, doctors and scientists thought that in order to be healthy and have less cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, we needed a low fat diet. Now the role fat plays in our body is better understood and we know we need to eat a “right” fat diet.

Fat is part of every cell in your body and supplies energy. We need fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat keeps your skin and hair shiny and healthy. Fat makes food taste good and is digested slowly, keeping us full longer. A whopping 60% of our brain tissue is fat. But not all fats in food are created equal and some are better than others. Let’s start with what to avoid.

By now, you have probably heard of trans-fats, the bad boy of the food industry. Trans-fats undergo a process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen is injected into liquid vegetable oil. This changes the chemical structure of the fat so that it is solid at room temperature. This process is cheap, allows the oil to withstand higher cooking temperatures and helps preserve food for a long time. Trans-fats don’t preserve your body however, they contribute to heart disease and diabetes by increasing abdominal fat, interfere with nerve cell function, raise your LDL cholesterol and increase your risk for certain cancers. READ food labels and look for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated as food companies can label a food trans-fat free if it contains less than .5 grams per serving. Trans-fats are found in many processed foods like cookies, snack food and fast foods so it is best to avoid these types of food or eat them only occasionally.

Interestingly, your body needs saturated fats to be healthy as well but your liver makes all the saturated fat it needs. Saturated fats come from animal meat and products like milk and butter, eggs, dark chocolate, palm oil and coconut oil. Too much saturated fat in the diet leads to obesity, raises your LDL cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. To avoid too much saturated fat in the diet, look for lean cuts of meat like chicken breasts. You can also eat less red meat and pork and use lower fat dairy.

Last we have unsaturated fats, which are the healthiest fats and are filled with omega 3s, a type of fatty acid. Unsaturated fats and omega 3s actually help keep you healthy by reducing the inflammation in your arteries which could lead to blockages, lowering your cholesterol levels, blood sugar level and your risk for certain cancers and diabetes. Unsaturated fats are found in foods like salmon, avocados, seeds, nuts, olive oil, nut butters, and flaxseed meal and oil.

Hopefully these last three articles have inspired you to take a good look at what your family is eating. Food affects your physical wellbeing and your brain function. Raising healthy, smart kids means feeding them wholesome foods, not junk.

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