by Dr. Liat Engel
Too Fat, or not Too Fat? That is the question. Well, not really. The question is more likely: “what is the nature of your fats?” In this article we will be reviewing both the bad fats, including what risks they pose, and how to avoid them, right alongside the good fats with their wonderful benefits.
In the past, weight loss diets have targeted fat as the culprit to disease and weight issues, but we now know that it’s actually sugar and refined carbohydrates that cause the greatest health risks. It has been recognized that “good” fats play an integral role in vitamin and nutrient absorption, help in maintaining physical health, optimal brain functioning, a powerful immune system and even stabilize our mental emotional states. The key is how to recognize the bad from the good and implementing this knowledge into our diets.
These are called “bad” fats because they cause widespread inflammation and clog up our vascular system. This then leads to a myriad of effects proven detrimental to our heart, liver (including hormone production and regulation), and our digestive and brain systems; ultimately resulting in increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, fatty liver, endocrine disorders and even Alzheimer’s disease. The recommendation is to completely avoid trans fats, while saturated fats should be limited to a minimum of 10% of total daily fat intake (<30% of total calories). However, in the typical American diet, its estimated on WebMD that about 34-45% of calories come from fat! The way to recognize these bad fats in your food label is by searching for anything termed as “trans or saturated fats” which should be listed on the nutrition label but trans fats are often times only listed as “hydrogenated oils” under the list of ingredients. Trans fats are found in many margarines, shortenings and processed foods such as pastries, chips, crackers and cookies. Saturated fat is predominantly found in meat and dairy products, so managing portion size is important with these foods. Checking your cholesterol will show these bad fats as LDL and triglycerides, so be sure to look out for these at your next annual exam.
Good fats are the unsaturated ones and they serve vital roles in our body. Cutting out good fats completely will result in malabsorption and ultimately malnutrition of vital nutrients. Essential fats operate intricately in the health of our brains and helps maintain our energy, mood, focus and concentration. Also, since cholesterol is the building block of our hormones, a lack of good fats can result in people having their thyroid, adrenal and sexual glands thrown off balance. The downstream effects lead to symptoms of weight gain, hair loss, cold and stress intolerance, depression, fatigue, irregular bleeding and even infertility! The good and essential monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s, are ones that our body can’t produce on its own and has to be gained from our diet. Avocado, safflower, sunflower, olive, flax, canola, walnut, fish and coconut oils are ideal unsaturated fats. On a lipid panel the HDL levels are what depict the healthy levels of cholesterol in your body.
All fats are not created equal! Next time you’re shopping keep an eye out to avoid trans fats, limit saturated ones and replace as much as you can with unsaturated fats and oils as possible. Come in to see us here at AIM to consult with our naturopaths if you would like more information on this topic, because as the saying goes: you are what you eat!
Dr. Liat Engel is available to see primary care patients of all stripes, and happy to guide you toward optimal diet and health outcomes.